My property story: Jess and Warren’s historical hall

How one young couple thought outside the box in their property search and found the home of their dreams. 

After two years searching for their ideal home, Jess Britten, a freelance creative, PR and marketing consultant, and Warren Durling, a financial controller, were finding it hard to get their foot in the Auckland housing market. With what was becoming a tiresome process, Jess and Warren switched their search to include properties others were perhaps put off by, with the move paying off.

The Hall

Jess and Warren uncovered a hidden gem in a historical hall; they could immediately see the potential the grand space held. With the vision to one day raise a family, Jess and Warren were aware of the overly ambitious task ahead for the two self-proclaimed DIY novices. At just shy of 110 years old, the hall was in need of some serious TLC.

Many late nights and weekends were spent slogging away at restoring the hall to its former glory, all the while documenting their renovation journey, ‘Hall We Need’ on Instagram

The effort, energy and enthusiasm they have put into restoring such a beautiful old historic building is inspiring, and as Jess recently told me, is beyond their wildest dreams.

Sold sign photo

Did you ever imagine a hall would become your first home together? 

Never ever! I always envisioned myself living in a unique, character home one day, possibly because I was fortunate enough to grow up in something similar. It was a pretty tough dream to make happen, so it wasn’t something I ever thought was remotely possible. I still have pinch me moments now and feel ridiculously blessed.

What were you both ideally hoping to buy?

We were open to anything. Houses, units, apartments; if it had four walls and a roof we didn’t rule it out. We were looking for somewhere to live, and ideally a place that we could start a family in, over the next 5-10 years. We loved the idea of adding value to a property and figured we might be able to make our money go further if we looked at properties others were put off by due to the sheer scale of work required. We may have taken this concept a few steps too far with the hall!

Keeping an open mind throughout the whole process was key. The last stage of our hunt we switched our focus to search for something small and central. Searching for 1-2 bedroom apartments or townhouses was how we found the Hall. We only found it because it was listed as 1 bedroom, which I guess it technically is. Living in a hall after searching for a 1 bedroom place is the height of irony.

Bathroom before and after

How was the renovation process different to the reality?

I thought it would be energising, exciting and rewarding. It has been all of these things, but it’s also exhausting. I always thought that if we put our minds to it we could achieve anything and while I still believe this, I am now much more aware there are lots of elements that you can’t make move any faster, no matter how much time or energy you invest. Being patient has been a big one so far.

Biggest learning curve?

Nearly everything we have done has been a first for us, so it’s difficult to single out one experience because they’ve all been equally challenging. From getting our heads around preserving heritage features, designing spaces, building and resource consent applications, sanding floors, plastering, stripping paint and learning to talk to tradies without sounding completely clueless. We’ve made lots of little mistakes, but nothing that’s cost us anything other than time yet.

Lounge before and after

What are the Hall’s historical elements?

From a technical standpoint, the hall is a listed heritage building with both Auckland City Council and Heritage New Zealand. These two groups work together but are essentially two different entities, for example a building can be listed with one and not the other. Our place is listed on both and we’ve been really fortunate to work closely with both of their amazing teams who have helped us gain an understanding of the limitations and great possibilities that are involved in owning a heritage building in NZ. The hall is has a ‘category A’ protection. This means we cannot remove or alter any original heritage features on the building – both inside and out – not that we’d want to. The way we see it we’re pretty much guardians for the hall, here to restore it to its former glory and keep it maintained so it doesn’t ever fall into a further state of disrepair.

Front before and after

If you could pick one favourite feature in the Hall, what would it be?

Where to begin? The entire building is just so magical, I’m a little in love with it all. The grand scale of the main hall as you step inside still takes my breath away. Many of the Hall’s finest features have been hidden away gathering dust so we’ve been working hard to breathe new life into each and every one. My favourite thing about owning this incredible piece of history is opening up what was previously shut off to the public. Hall We Need is our way of sharing the magic we experience every day.

The interiors were riddled with imperfections and had cigarette smoke stained, yellow-ish coloured walls. In serious need of freshening up, painting was the obvious place to start to brighten up the building without doing major renovations. The interiors are now Dulux Okarito, a fresh, crisp white, while the exteriors we went with Dulux Mt Aspiring Quarter and a soft grey, Dulux Manorburn. We paid special attention to the old maroon ‘I O O F’ detailing at the top of the building. Standing for Independent Order of Odd Fellows, this was the original owners of the Hall. I had to convince Warren to paint it Gold as I had my heart set on using Dulux Gold Effect, knowing it would look amazing.


Follow Jess and Warren’s journey on Instagram @hallweneed

Kelly Evans is a blogger, writer and stylist. Kelly shares stories on clever people and great design on her website, thehomescene.nzClick here to read more from Kelly.
Photos courtesy of Jess Britten

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