Casa Nova restored and ready


Book a room and pack a bag. Casa Nova is open for business.

The 160-year-old Oamaru stone mansion has been restored, possibly beyond its former glory, with great attention to detail and no expense spared.

Katrina McLarin and Brenda Laverick bought the house in July 2019 and relocated to Oamaru from Pukekohe, where they own a restaurant.

Renovations began just before the Covid-19 lockdown last year, and it has been a labour of love since then.

Ms McLarin jokes that she’s been holding a paintbrush in one hand for about a year.

Of course, as is often the case with grand scale renovations, things have not gone completely to plan.

Opening a family-friendly restaurant at Casa Nova has been put on hold until there is more certainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic.

The couple’s Pukekohe restaurant is closed at present due to Level 3 lockdown in Auckland.

Renovations were also put on hold for five months due to objections to their application for a liquor licence, for which they were completely unprepared.

They did not want to keep pouring money into a project they weren’t sure could go ahead.

Finished product . . . Casa Nova in all her glory.

“It didn’t occur to us in a million years that there would ever be an issue with the liquor licence, because the house was already consented as a restaurant … and has been a licensed premises.”

But Ms McLarin said they now wanted to put the issue in the past and move on.

“We have no intention of leaving any time soon. We just want to be good neighbours.”

The restaurant was consented for only 30 diners at one time, and 50 for a function or event.

From the whimsical wallpaper to the custom-made Axminster carpet, the 570sq m building is a visual feast.

One of the three rooms has a peephole into the original Oamaru stone underneath, while another has an entire stone wall exposed, so the detail of the masonry is on display.

“When I saw the exposed stone, I was like, ‘oh my God, I need to feature this’ … I think a lot of people are quite tactile, and they like to touch things and feel things and experience them,” Ms McLarin said.

“What we’re trying to do, in almost every element of being in Casa Nova, is to create some type of emotion.

“So when you’re in the toilets downstairs and you see the lagoon fish across the wall, or whether you’re in the whimsical zebras … we’re trying to create some type of emotion, because it creates a memory. And we hope, all good ones.

“That’s our intention, anyway.”

Whimsical wallpaper . . . In the Borton Chamber, the Emma J Shipley Caspian wallpaper and exposed Oamaru stone wall offer an element of surprise.

Ms McLarin said she and Ms Laverick considered themselves the custodians of the heritage listed building.

“That’s how I look at it … for the next ones that come along.

“I just hope that people down the line will treat it with the respect that we have, and show it the love and care.”

She said they had “absolutely” gone over budget, but she had no regrets.

They were keen to see Casa Nova resume its “rightful mantle”, considering the role it played in the history of the community.

“I think it’s been forgotten, to a certain degree, over the last 20 years,” Ms McLarin said.

“There is a lot of focus on the Victorian precinct, as there rightly should be, but there are other buildings of great significance that aren’t in that location.

Ms McLarin said they were fortunate to be able to draw on a local trade base that was very skilled, including the third generation of Hi-Flo Plumbing.

“I think that’s crazy – in a good way.”

She thought everybody who worked on the project enjoyed the challenge of the work.

“You don’t have properties like this that come up every day.”

Ms McLarin said the entire project was a steep learning curve, and she made all the interior design decisions herself.

She sometimes struggled to trust her own judgement, but was glad she followed through on her decisions “because I could have been talked out of so many things, from the wallpaper to the carpet and I would have regretted it.”