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Edwardian finery is gracefully displayed at Olveston, a 35-room turn-of-the-century home designed by leading English architect Sir Ernest George for merchant David Theomin and family.
Actively involved in the affairs of Dunedin, the Theomins were cultured and well travelled and surrounded themselves with a unique collection of paintings, furniture and objets d’art.
Olveston was bequeathed to the City in the 1960s, when Dorothy Theomin died. Faithfully maintained and presented as it looked when the family lived in it, Olveston is now open to the public and is a heritage-hound’s delight.
An English migrant whose business interests flourished in the decades following the Otago goldrush, David Theomin wished his family to have a home of permanence and substance. Olveston, a Jacobean-styled design, certainly had all the comforts when the Theomin’s took up residence in 1907. Central heating, in-house telephone system, shower and heated towel rails marked it as a home of significance.
Olveston occupies a pleasant and prominent garden setting, framed by Dunedin’s beautiful greenbelt. Its one-acre grounds, which feature mature native and exotic plantings, were laid out by the home’s architect, Sir Ernest George. George, who was associated with the Garden City movement in England, believed in forming an intimate connection between house and garden. This is evident today in Olveston’s vege garden, which contains items favoured by home gardeners today.
Inside, Olveston astounds. The value and scope of its collection, built up by two generations of the Theomin family, is unrivalled in New Zealand’s south. Highlights include Continental glassware; sterling silverware; bronze and spelter figures; pottery and ceramics; and numerous oil and watercolour paintings. Jacobean, Victorian, Edwardian and Art Nouveau design styles feature, and there’s an accent on the Orient, with items of fine porcelain, Cloisonne enamel-ware, lacquer-ware, Japanese weaponry plus netsuke, inro and tsuba.
At Olveston, great care is taken to maintain authenticity. Ongoing maintenance programmes are an essential aspect of presenting the home in a manner that conforms to the original style, design and way of life enjoyed by the Theomin family. Carefully researched conservation, restoration and replication has been carried out where necessary: from carpets and wallcoverings to major undertakings such as the restoration of the family’s private upstairs rooms and 1921Fiat automobile.
Olveston offers a fascinating glimpse of Dunedin’s prosperous past, and an insight into the personal lives of one of its distinguished and genteel families. Guided tours are offered at regular times daily.
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