News | 13 October 2023
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Serving cottagecore: Nairn Street refresh

Built in the late 1850s, Nairn Street Cottage is one of the oldest houses still standing in Wellington. Constructed from local native timber and cut and finished by hand, it provides a glimpse into the early colonial style housing that is common throughout the capital. While beautiful, these old-style houses often need a lot of maintenance, and a refresh has been done to preserve this heritage cottage.

Front view of an early colonial cottage.

Constructed for the Wallis family, the cottage was a family home that was passed through the generations until the 1970s. 


At the time of the build in 1857/58, the construction was based on a simple ‘double-box’ shape that was a common style for homes in the capital. There were four rooms on the ground floor and a narrow staircase leading to two small bedrooms with dormer windows under the high roof.  The parlour and main bedroom are located at the front of the house, and a nursery and kitchen were located to the rear. 

Most of the house was built by hand, with Wallis himself carving and hand-planing a lot of the mouldings and doors. 

The way the house was built is a testament to craftsmanship at the time, says Wellington City Council Architectural Advisor Gemma Winstanley. 

“Nails were hard to come by at the time, so they came up with an ingenious way of slotting the timber together.  There’s no internal lining in some of the rooms and you can see the weather boards. Everything was done by hand.”

Wallis’s family had made a lot of add-ons over the years but when the Council developed housing on Nairn Street in the 1970s, the cottage was at risk of being demolished. 


It was pitched that the cottage should become the first house museum in the city due to the way it was built and was restored to its original state. 

Black and white photo of Nairn Street Cottage.
Nairn Street Cottage. Circa 1960s. Photo by Charles Fearnley. Wellington City Libraries, 50003-1957.

This included restoring some of the cottage’s original features including the timber shingle roof, as they are extremely rare to find in Wellington and the rest of the country.

This year, a project began to repair some of the weathertightness issues to the house and give the exterior an overall refresh, says Gemma. 

“We noticed some cracks in the weatherboards and they were having issues with leaking around the front door and around the veranda. The more these buildings leak, the more they deteriorate. 

“We really needed to try prevent further deterioration of the building - if water is coming down through the front door, it's coming in and rotting the internal floorboards, which are original.”

Gemma says the aim of the refresh was to patch things up and keep it true to its 1850s form.

“A big driver of the project was to replace very little. We had to replace a couple of the boards, some of the guttering and the back porch, but ultimately, we retained most of the original elements and materials. We did a lot of patching and painted the whole cottage.

 “This project has been exciting because you can see the detailing throughout the house - it’s all exposed and lovely and something we wanted to maintain and preserve for the future. It’s interesting to see how these houses are affected after it rains – the impurities in the weather boards are visible due to the rough sawn timber. These days we use machines to cut timber so they’re always perfect.

"For example, we had to replace one of the cornices on the veranda post because it had rotted out and the new one they've put in has been made with the machine. It looks great but you can tell the difference.”

Side view of an early colonial style cottage.

Gemma believes that the Nairn Street Cottage refresh was important to preserve history. 

“This is an example of a villa that's not really been changed. While others have been modernised, this is one of the only examples of colonial building techniques preserved in the city. You can't replicate that. It truly feels like a Wellington villa that has been replicated all over the city.”

The cottage is currently closed and will reopen in the first weekend of November. Visit Nairn Street Cottage to find out more or read about the history on the Heritage NZ website.