About the house

The house, built in 1952 and designed by Austrian engineer, Frederic Herz Schwarzkopf, is one of the few remaining examples of modernist architecture in central Wellington.

A quiet retreat in central Wellington

Built for the Collins family, Douglas Lilburn was its second owner. He lived there from 1959 until his death in 2001. The house is surrounded by a garden of mature and native trees, which Lilburn called his ‘jungle’. It provides an ideal working environment for a composer. It also has a fine vegetable garden, established by Douglas Lilburn, which supplies the resident composers with a variety of produce. During Lilburn’s time there it became something of a mecca for artists, musicians and especially composers.

One of Lilburn’s students, Gordon Burt, reflected that:

The door is always open... the house is lean, yet filled with books, several icons of New Zealand painting. There is wine, a bowl of cubed bread, and cheese or olives, wild greenery against uncurtained windows, and a view—across Bolton Street knoll to the skyline and harbour—which, from just down the road, once took Rita Angus’s eye. Quiet talk, fuelled by the rising warmth of the wine, drifts from chat about colleagues and friends to business at the university and so to all that is music and beyond...

The house is distinctive for its black and white exterior and flat roof – houses such as this are often known as ‘magpie’ houses. It offers 3 bedrooms – one of which is usually the composer’s work room, a generous lounge, kitchen, laundry and bathroom. The modernist details extend to many built-in cupboards and shelves and also its design, which ensures as much sun as possible in this sometimes shady part of Wellington.

The Lilburn Residence, garden and surrounding houses in Thorndon 

A valued heritage site

Early in 2006, Heritage New Zealand gave the property a Category 1 listing in recognition of its historic associations, outstanding cultural value and architectural interest. Further details are available on their website.

A covenant taken out by the executors of Lilburn’s will protects the garden and grounds. The house, together with the shed and garden, is also noted on the Wellington City Council’s district plan as a heritage site. 

The land is almost 1100 square metres, unusually large for this area of Wellington where most of the houses are 19th century cottages on small sections.

The plaque at the gate of 22 Ascot Street

A plaque designed by Tanya Ashken was commissioned by the Lilburn Trust and has been placed at the gate. It reads: Douglas Lilburn ONZ, New Zealand composer and professor of music lived here 1959–2001.

Peter Walls, a colleague and friend of Lilburn’s, noted in the composer’s obituary:

Douglas was determined to get home from hospital to his modest house, which is surrounded by native greenery—a surprising haven in downtown Wellington. He died there a few hours after enjoying what he thought was the best glass of wine he had had in his life.