Villas were typically built around a central corridor with rooms opening off each side.

A number of houses with similar plans may have been built in a single street, but variation was introduced by ‘handing’ the plans – flipping the plan to give a mirror image of the original – for example, the bay window could be on the right or left of the entry with variations in the decorative features of the street elevation.

Typical plans

Figure 1 shows a typical small villa plan, with a parlour, passage, main bedroom and second bedroom, kitchen, pantry and scullery.

Figure 2 shows a typical larger bay villa with a parlour, main bedroom and two other bedrooms, passage, kitchen, pantry and scullery, bathroom, and laundry (with toilet added). Living and sleeping areas.

Living and sleeping areas

The parlour was located directly off the corridor, near the front entry. This room was reserved for entertaining guests. The bay window (when fitted to the protruding gable) was generally reserved for this room, and the best furniture and family treasures would be displayed here.

For most villas, the main bedroom was typically across the corridor from the parlour, facing the street. A second bedroom and any other bedrooms typically faced the side or back of the house.

Service areas

Service areas – the kitchen, pantry and scullery – were always at the rear of the house, away from the street. Typically, they were located in a lean-to, with a floor at ground level.

The kitchen was for cooking and eating. Early villas would have had a coal range as the sole means of cooking. Later, a wetback provided water heating.

Larger villas sometimes had a separate dining room and a pantry for food storage. A common feature was a safe.

Early villas did not have bathrooms. Long-drop toilets were located in separate buildings in the rear yard.

The laundry was typically in a separate building behind the main house. Laundries would have contained timber (kauri) tubs and possibly a copper, for boiling water for the washing. 

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While villa plans were relatively standardised, over time a number of variations emerged. These reflected local climate and conditions, as well as demand from increasingly affluent owners for larger and more decorative homes. The variations included:

  • the half or semi-detached villa – basically a villa that is one room wide with a corridor built right to the boundary with a fire wall
  • the two-storeyed villa (Figure 3) – a number of which are semi-detached
  • villas that only have a porch over the central front entry – common in Wellington and Dunedin (Figure 4)
  • the villa without bay windows (Figure 5)
  • turrets
  • corner bays - for the corner bay villa, a bay window was also included for a separate formal dining room
  • a side entrance rather than a front entrance – more common in Wellington than other places.


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Early modifications

Living areas and bedrooms

The lounge or parlour was frequently converted to the main bedroom or, for larger families, a children’s room, as it could contain up to four beds and was remote from the area most frequented by the family. The bedroom closest to the kitchen area could be used as a dining room or third bedroom but often became the lounge.

Service areas

Original villas lacked services that are now taken for granted, such as gas and electricity, water supply, sewerage, and hot water storage.

As these services reached New Zealand towns and cities, villas were modified to incorporate them. Services areas such as kitchens and bathrooms were modified and expanded, and outside facilities such as toilets and laundries moved indoors (see Figure 2). To form the additional floor area required, the lean-to service area was extended, often with a lower ceiling height than the remainder of the house.

Almost all villas, even if otherwise largely untouched, would have had these areas altered, perhaps as early as the 1920s. Initially, when the toilet moved inside it was located off the rear porch or in the laundry. However, with the advent of town water supply and sewerage, along with changing social aspirations and lifestyles, the toilet eventually graduated to the bathroom. Bathrooms were quickly altered to include a flushing toilet, bath and hand basin. The hot water cylinder was also commonly housed here – often supported off the wall framing.