Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Architecture - The Iconic New Zealand Villa

To most people the word 'villa' conjures up images of white washed or ochre coloured houses in the Mediterranean or around the Caribbean, not in New Zealand, though. Here the Villa is a very distinct and iconic style of architecture, with no resemblance to the villas of the northern hemisphere. 

 In the early days of settlement  New Zealand was a largely rural society with  most people living in small cottages. As cities grew and  suburbs developed, people became more affluent and looked for larger and more permanent homes, which the Villa provided. Drawing on Victorian influences the Villa was ornate and decorative having its heyday  between 1880 and up to the start of the first World War when austerity measures were adopted.Villas were built entirely of wood with  metal roofs, and often pre fabricated,  floor plans  were usually chosen from a catalogue. They featured high ceilings, sash windows and wide hallways and decorative features included stained glass windows, lacy fretwork and turned finials on the roof. 

A two storied Villa with all the usual features; finials, ornate fretwork, wrap around verandahs and stained glass
They were not built for the sun, with the master bedroom and little used, formal, parlour facing the road regardless, which, together with being  uninsulated, made Villas cold and draughty. Different cities in New Zealand had slightly different styles of villa, for example, in Auckland's warmer climate large wrap around verandahs were a feature, in Wellington Villas tended to be narrower and in Dunedin wrought iron was used as a decorative finish. They did not have running  hot water and in the early days, as was normal for the times, the toilet was a long drop in the garden.  Later the toilet was moved to the main house but was usually located at the end of a back verandah which meant going outside the house and along the verandah whatever the weather, an improvement on having  an outhouse in the garden, at least.

My Grandparents house, a later version - the Transitional Villa.  The only change is the top floor, added by new owners.
I have a particularly warm spot for the Villa, my grandparents lived in one and it is where my mother spent part of her childhood. Typically their Villa had a wide central hallway with the master bedroom one side of the front door and a small parlour, for entertaining guests, on the other side. This part of the hallway was separated from the rest of the house by dark red velvet curtains, no doubt to contain the warmth and prevent draughts.  Beside the master bedroom were two more bedrooms and beside the parlour was a large sitting room with a fireplace.  Next to the sitting room was a kitchen/dining room which was bright and sunny in the afternoon and next to the third bedroom was the bathroom.  The walls of the bathroom were vertical ship lap timber painted green and the bath was free standing and heated by a gas caliphont which gurgled and spluttered and frightened me as a child.  The sunniest rooms in the house were the bedrooms, bathroom and toilet. Also, typically, the toilet was along the outside verandah and the laundry was in a separate outhouse commonly known as the wash house.  There was no running hot water in the kitchen, hot water came from a wall mounted Zip heater, although in later years they did have a hot water system installed. Despite the slightly terrifying caliphont I have nothing but warm happy memories of this house.  My grandmother grew masses of daphne along the side path and I only have to get a slight sniff of daphne to be transported back there, full of happiness and nostalgia.

Today Villas are highly sought after although they need to be extensively altered to suit modern lifestyles. The key to a successful renovation is to retain the exterior (as seen in the photos above) while altering the layout inside.  Villas epitomise the romantic dream of a house a garden and a white picket fence.  At the time they were built cities were very small and villas were out in the new suburbs.  Today, as the cities have grown, those suburbs are mainly central city. Partly because of their central location and partly because they are a beloved style of architecture in New Zealand a well refurbished Villa is now very expensive.

A modernised Villa, adapted  for modern living but retaining many original features. 

Examples of Villas are spread throughout the inner suburbs of Auckland but some suburbs have more than others. Devonport and Cheltenham are two of the best but they can be found in numbers in Herne Bay, Ponsonby, Parnell, Remuera (where my grandparents lived) and Epsom.

All photos are my own