Floors: original details

Original villas typically had tongue-and-groove wooden flooring supported on bearers of rimu or another native timber.

Floor framing

Floor framing was typically rimu, but kauri and other timbers such as totara, red beech and fuchsia were also used.

Ground floor framing


Bearers were 4 x 3” (102 x 76 mm) typically installed on the flat at 6’ (1800 mm) centres. Joints in bearers both running and at corners were typically halved (Figures 1 and 2) but there are examples of mortice and tenon or dovetail joints being used (Figure 3).


Joists were nominally 5 x 2” (125 x 50 mm) or 6 x 2” (150 x 50 mm) at 18” (450 mm) centres. It was not common for any solid blocking or herringbone strutting to be used to provide lateral support to floor joists.

Ground floor joists could be:

  • directly supported by the bearers (Figure 4) – they were sometimes notched over the bearer to form a level platform, as the framing was typically rough sawn and not gauged and this allowed the variation between individual members to be accommodated
  • supported by a stringer or ledger fixed to the side of the jack framing to the subfloor, with a vermin plate inserted between each vertical stud (Figure 5)
  • parallel to the bearer (Figure 6).

Wall bottom plates were supported directly on joists (double joists where the wall plate was parallel to the joists) except for external walls parallel to the bearer where the wall plate was supported off the bearer with blocking (Figure 7).

First floor framing

First floor joists were typically installed at right angles to the central corridor and supported by the corridor walls to give a span of typically 12’ (3.6 m) based on common room widths. Timber depth was based on the calculation of 1” of depth for every 1’ of span, so first floor joists were therefore usually 12” (300 mm) deep. As with ground floor joists, there was no lateral support. 

It was common for joists to be supported on the top plate of the lower floor wall (Figure 8) but there are also some examples of balloon framing being used, where the joist is supported on a 6 x 1” (150 x 25 mm) stringer housed into the stud, with the stud running the full height of the wall (Figure 9).

In some villas, the first floor external wall bottom plate is supported on short jack studs bearing on the top plate of the lower floor wall and not the floor joists (Figures 10 and 11).

Internal walls may have been framed without the use of a bottom plate – the studs installed directly onto the flooring.

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Flooring was typically matai, rimu, kahikatea or tawa tongue and groove boards up to 8½” (215 mm) wide, although 6” (150 mm) was very common. There are also some examples of totara being used for flooring in the Wellington region.

Flooring was cut between or laid up to the wall plates and installed after the building had been made watertight.

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Floor finishes

In living spaces and bedrooms, a carpet square or rug was laid and only the exposed part of the timber floor had an applied finish – typically wax or a stain. Hallways had a runner with a similar approach to the finish. 

In service areas, polished floors with loose mats were most common. Kitchen and bathrooms may have had linoleum flooring.

Tin or lead was used to cover bathroom floors or line under baths and toilet pans – one well known example is Antrim House in Wellington, the home of Heritage New Zealand.

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Villa framing construction was the first to use nailing of framing members as well as for fixing claddings, match lining and internal finishing timbers as a matter of course. Initially, nails would have been imported – manufacture of framing nails from cut wire didn’t commence in New Zealand until the late 1880s/early 1890s.

Fixings for galvanised iron were lead head nails with bright steel shanks. Early lead head nails were made by the plumbers’ apprentices in their spare time, with local commercial manufacture commencing in the late 1880s.