Building form

Typical villas characteristics include sloping hip roofs, bay windows, verandas and wooden sash windows.

Because the floor plan was often chosen from a catalogue and the villa assembled from prefabricated elements, there was a high degree of standardisation in building layout and form. However, variations did emerge over time.

Typical villa form


A typical villa had a hip roof over the main building mass, with a roof slope of 30–45°. Roofs were generally clad in corrugated iron (Figure 1).

Bay windows

A typical villa had a single bay window facing the street. The bay had a gable over it, emerging from the main building form.

Cladding and joinery

Original villas had double-hung sash timber windows, and wall cladding of wide rusticated weatherboard or overlapping plain boards. Facing boards were used extensively on external corners and around windows and doors. There was a high degree of standardisation of detailing/components. See Walls and Cladding.


A typical villa had a veranda across the front, butting into the bay window. The roof was typically set below the eaves, and was generally curved. Larger verandas tended to be more common in sunnier climates such as Auckland.

Fretwork decoration was common on veranda posts and gables.


Most villas were single-storey, though there were a significant number of double-storey villas – particularly in areas where small sections were common.


Because they were built around a central corridor, villas typically had the main entrance opening off the veranda in the centre of the street facade. There were, however, variations such as half-villas and villas with the main entrance at the side.


The main building form typically had a stud height of 10–12’ (3–3.6 m).

In main living rooms, at least one dimension – usually the width from the corridor wall to the outside wall – was 12 feet (3.6 m), but in larger villas, 14 feet (4.2 m) may have been used. Corridors were typically around 4’ 8” (1420 mm) wide but could be 6’ (1800 mm).


The service areas were always placed to the rear of the building, away from the street, and were often housed in a lean-to structure (Figure 2) with a skillion roof. Often, these service areas were at ground level with floors of concrete or bitumen, or timber with minimum clearance.


Back to top

Fireplaces and ranges

Other typical features included open fires for heating in living and main sleeping spaces, and coal ranges for cooking (and water heating).

Back to top


Over time, as the villa style developed and owners became increasingly affluent, the form became more varied. Larger villas were built. Decoration became more intricate. Brick construction, and more expensive roof claddings such as Marseille tile and slate appeared.

And there emerged significant variations in the form and detailing of roofs and bay windows. Possible combinations were:

  • Roof form – centre gutter, pyramid, hipped gable.
  • Types of bay windows – none, single bay, double bay, corner bay, corner angle bay.
  • Treatment of bays – flush, faceted, highly decorated, plain (square).
  • Roof over bay window – hip, faceted, gable.

Some of common combinations of these features are shown in Figures 3-12.




Early and lower cost villas could be without fretwork, but many became highly decorative with fretwork to verandas and posts, to gable ends or as a cornice beneath the fascia. These decorations varied with fashion over time and generally reflected the wealth of the original owner. These could be chosen from a catalogue of fret-sawn designs, but in some instances were formed in cast iron. Figure 1 shows a villa with typical fretwork. See Verandas and porches for more.