A STATELY STEP BACK IN TIME
Hawke’s Bay’s historic homestead, Ormlie Lodge, is 100 years old this month.
The gracious two-storey house, situated on 5ha overlooking the Waiohiki golf course, has survived a major earthquake, a fire and several changes of ownership during the past century, as CHRIS MOLE reports.
You really need servants to run a house as large as Ormlie Lodge.
It was built in the days when wealthy families usually had live-in staff, with their own separate quarters, and Ormlie’s original owners, Hector and Gertrude Smith, employed several servants.
But 100 years later, times have changed.
In fact, you might say things have been turned on their head because the current owners, Dick and Margaret Allen, live in the former maids’ quarters. And they make their living by serving guests.
The irony of the situation is not lost on the couple who now run Ormlie Lodge as a function centre and restaurant, and do most of the manual work around the house themselves.
That includes never-ending painting, as Dick lamented as he showed me around the house recently.
But while the paintwork may be an ongoing headache, the kauri timber from which the house is built is as solid as ever.
Looking at the ornate woodcarving both inside and outside the house, you realise how building methods have changed during the past century.
Builders and tradesmen must have had more time 100 years ago.
Take the magnificent staircase, for example, crafted from kauri and all with hand tools and manually-operated lathes.
Why can’t we make staircases like that today, with the added benefit of power tools?
Presumably it comes down to cost.
A Napier builder estimated it would cost about $50,000 to build such a staircase today.
So it’s refreshing to step back in time in a house like Ormlie and reminisce about a bygone age, even if only briefly.
The outside appearance of the house hasn’t changed much during the past century.
It looks as imposing now as it did when Hector and Gertrude Smith moved in – in 1899 – after Gertrude’s father, William Nelson, gave them the house as a wedding present.
The newly-married couple moved in about July and must have found the large house difficult to heat.
Of course, they had staff to light the open fires each morning but the high ceilings and spacious rooms would have made it somewhat draughty in winter.
Electricity came to Ormlie in 1927 and the telephone in 1930.
The 1931 earthquake damaged the house extensively, forcing the owners to move out for two years while it was repaired at a cost of £1764.
Hector and Gertrude Smith had four daughters who grew up at Ormlie and the couple lived their entire married life in the house.
Gertrude died in 1955 but Hector remained at Ormlie another seven years until he sold it in 1962, just before his death at the age of 93.
The new owners were Bill and Hilda Stevens who turned the house into a private hotel.
They converted the old stables – built in 1910 – into a restaurant which could cater for 100 people and it became one of the finest dining establishments in Hawke’s Bay during the 1960s.
Ormlie Lodge was particularly popular with golfers because of its proximity to the Waiohiki golf course.
In 1969, Albert and Vera Watson bought the property and continued to run it as a restaurant and guest house for 12 years.
In the early 1980s, Mark and Rosie Herbert took over the establishment.
They licensed the Stables Restaurant and had plans to develop a conference centre on the site.
However, a fire in May 1985 destroyed the restaurant and caused almost $300,000 worth of damage, although fortunately the homestead itself was not touched by the blaze.
The Stables Restaurant was never rebuilt.
Don and Alma Kale bought Ormlie Lodge in late 1985 and spent a large amount of money renovating the house, including an extension for a new restaurant.
They added some fabulous oil paintings which are still in the house and a beautiful chandelier in the entrance hall.
They also had plans to develop an upmarket country club with about 20 homes, a gymnasium, swimming pool and tennis courts.
However, the project never came to fruition.
Dick and Margaret Allen took over Ormlie Lodge five years ago and have retained four guest bedrooms upstairs, each leading onto the balcony.
The couple have also developed the gardens and have planted more than 150 roses.
On July 17, they intend to celebrate Ormlie’s centennial with a birthday ball where guests will step back in time and wear period costume.
A butler will greet guests as they arrive at the ball which will include old-time music and dances.
Photo captions –
LEFT: Ormlie Lodge looks much the same today as it did when it was built 100 years ago.
RIGHT: Margaret Allen arranges flowers at the foot of the stairs.
BELOW RIGHT: The grand staircase, crafted from kauri, would cost at least $50,000 to build today. A fabulous chandelier hangs from the ceiling of the entrance hall below.
BELOW: One of several old fireplaces in the house.
AN ARCHWAY frames the front lawn where guests enjoy eating al fresco in summer.
THE HONEYMOON suite leads out onto a balcony overlooking the garden.
HB TODAY PICTURES: WARREN BUCKLAND