Railways cottage

Railways cottages are a distinctly New Zealand housing style.

Built in many New Zealand settlements between 1922 and 1929, they look very different from bungalows but share many construction methods.


Once the North Island main trunk railway line was completed in 1908, housing was needed for workers at railway depots along the line. In 1922, Railways built a sawmill and house factory in Hamilton to build this housing.

This factory had its own architects and the ability to transport the houses to wherever they were needed. Construction was organised as a production line, creating one of the first kitset housing systems in New Zealand. Houses were delivered to locations as components to be assembled on site.

Railways settlements sprang up in Frankton, Otahuhu, Newmarket, Taumarunui, Ohakune, Taihape, Marton, Milson, Moera and Ngaio in the North Island, and a few South Island locations such as Greymouth.

The factory that built the Railways cottages closed in 1929 and no further cottages of this distinctive style were built. 

Many have since been moved from their original locations, and many have had major alterations. However, others remain in the original locations and with evidence of their distinctive style still apparent.

Back to top

Construction and building form

The Railways cottage essentially had a Georgian façade, but with the lower-pitched roof and exposed rafters of the Californian bungalow. Though they looked very different from bungalows, construction was very similar.

The cottages had piled foundations and suspended timber floors. They used timber frame construction with bevel-back weatherboard cladding to the exterior and boxed external corners. Internal walls were sarked, as was the roof under the corrugated iron roofing. 

Roof styles

Roof styles were one of three forms: gable, hip or Dutch gable (a combination of the two).  Exposed rafter eaves, at typically 1’ (300 mm) wide, were somewhat smaller than the Californian bungalow counterpart, and the gables were typically clad with asbestos cement sheets with timber battens to cover the vertical joints.

Front façade

The front façade was the most distinctive feature of the Railways cottage. The central recessed porch and front door were flanked on either side by double-hung windows (another major deviation from the Californian bungalow in appearance), which were each overhung by small hoods constructed from exposed timber framing and supporting brackets. 


Although there were many variations in how the windows were divided, the most common form was a single, central vertical bar to both top and bottom sashes. Other configurations included a single lower pane with a six-pane division in the top sash, or three equal lower panes and a six-pane division in the top.

Front porch

There four commonly used designs for the central porch:

  • a gothic style with curved brackets cut from solid boards
  • a Japanese style with a very shallow hipped roof that extended to form hoods over the windows on either side
  • a lattice style, so-named for the diagonal trellis filling the spaces between the posts and punctuated by diamond-shaped openings
  • a larger porch with a combination of solid panels and square trellis between the posts.

There were more variations within these basic designs but the construction was the same for each. Porch roofs were supported on pairs of 4” (100 mm) square timber posts. 

Front door

The timber front door was typically glazed in the upper third (generally multi-paned glazing) with two or three vertical panels below. 


Inside, the layout, fittings and services were similar to those of the Californian bungalow.