New Zealand villas - a timeless classic

The villa is a timeless New Zealand style that, when renovated, can look every bit as good as the day it was built

Ah, the villa. A classic New Zealand style. Here, we’ll look back at the history of this style, a few common issues, some considerations when renovating and several stand-out examples.

A brief history. Popular from around 1880 through to the start of World War I, the villa emerged as a leading choice in New Zealand towns and cities largely due to space constraints. Up until that point, the most common style was the one or two-bedroom cottage – not entirely suitable for larger families.

As the population climbed, villa style grew in both popularity and complexity. Wealthy homeowners demanded increasingly detailed designs with more extravagant decoration. Most villas were constructed almost entirely out of timber with a metal roof, although there are brick examples.

Times have certainly changed when it comes to home design, and this is evident when looking at an original villa.

Here are a few of the key attributes of an original villa:

A central passageway running from the front door to the back, with rooms on either side always facing the street. Difficult to get light in – always dark, even on a sunny day. Poor outdoor connections. The back was usually considered a service area.


Don’t let their age fool you – a significant number of New Zealand villas are actually in excellent condition, having been renovated in 1980s/1990s following a resurgence in popularity. In fact, a BRANZ house condition survey found that, on average, the condition of homes constructed prior to 1920 was no worse than those built in the 1960s and 1970s.

Most renovated villas bear little resemblance to the original homes, having been stripped out and expanded to meet modern design standards, with the street-facing facade the only remaining historical feature.

If you’ve got your eye on an original villa, it’s important to realise that renovations aren’t easy. Many of these homes suffer from poor orientation and natural light, in addition to lacking many basic amenities.

An example of a renovation done right  building, cottage, estate, facade, fence, home, house, picket fence, property, real estate, residential area, white
An example of a renovation done right 

Here are a few of the most common issues – you’ll also need to consider whether or not you’ll need to remedy these.

Small kitchens lacking basic modern functionality, often in lean-tos at the back of the house. Inadequate power outlets and plumbing. Poor additions or internal layout changes such as new walls, dropped ceilings and covered fireplaces. Removal of traditional decorations.

To get an idea of the end result of a villa renovation, look no further than Auckland suburbs like Grey Lynn and Ponsonby. These places are home to some of the best examples.

There’s no denying that renovating a villa is a tough undertaking – for many it’s a passion project. However, you could be left with a home that marries the best of the past and present if you do it right.

Check out some of the villas in the home section here and get more renovation ideas in the interiors section here.

Story by: David Renwick

21 Feb, 2021

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