Above: The house today
Above: The house during its initial restoration in 1986
The Venetian blind was pulled down but not drawn close. Long pencil rays of sunlight shone through and the wavy shadow of a bush outside danced on the gold lines. - Katherine Mansfield, 'Prelude', 1917.
Katherine Mansfield's father, Harold Beauchamp, had this house built for his family in 1888. When he purchased the lease for the land in 1887, it stipulated that he build "a good and substantial house of the value of £400 at the least...with materials of the best description." The exterior of the house is Classically influenced, symmetrical and reminiscent of early Regency housing. It is a Category 1 Historic Place on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero.
Mansfield lived here as a young girl with her parents Harold and Annie, her older sisters Vera and Charlotte, her baby sisters Gwendoline (who died aged three months) and Jeanne, her maternal grandmother Margaret and her aunts Kitty and Belle. You can find a photo of the Beauchamp children and read more about Mansfield's life here.
The house was returned to its original layout and design in the late 1980s when the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society was established by Oroya Day. The restoration project was a significant undertaking. The house had been renovated in the 1940s to create two flats, but thankfully some original features (such as the bamboo-style banisters on the staircase) remained largely intact. Fragments of original wallpaper were discovered and used to create the reproductions that decorate the house today.
After 30 years of being open to the public, the house received some much-needed maintenance in 2019 to ensure its preservation into the future. This included a new roof, repairs to exterior weatherboards and new exterior paint, along with the installation of a heating and ventilation system. The Category 1 Historic Place also underwent an interior refresh to give visitors a greater insight into the life and work of its most famous former occupant and her family. The project was funded by a Lotteries Environment and Heritage grant, grants from the Stout Trust and the Melvin and Oroya Day Charitable Trust, and private donations.
The Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society worked with Dr William Cottrell, an expert in the furniture and interiors of 19th-century New Zealand, and used clues from the initial 1980s restoration to further explore the styles that would have appealed to a fashionable colonial family climbing the social ladder. Some incredible pieces of historic furniture were acquired to help illustrate the trends of the late 19th-century.
If you visited before October 2019, it's definitely worth visiting again!