Renovating homes built during the 1950s

Learn the ins and outs of transforming your midcentury house. We have accumulated information to help you make informed decisions when it comes to an old home renovation.

Exterior of a weatherboard house

Learn the ins and outs of transforming your midcentury house. We have accumulated information to help you make informed decisions when it comes to an old home renovation.

Why should I consider renovating my home built during the 1950s?

Your midcentury modern house might be ready for a makeover. Modernisation is one of the main reasons people choose to embark on 1950s house renovations. Let’s face it, these homes were built over 60 years ago and a lot has changed since then in terms of style, functionality, and energy efficiency. Increase your home’s value with a stunning renovation that freshens up your property while maintaining 1950s charm.

Weatherboard exterior with front porch

Renovating a 1950s house – what to look out for

Building codes looked a lot different back in the day. As a result, there are a few features to be aware of before you start your renovation.


Most homes in the ‘50s used asbestos for insulation, particularly around pipes and radiators. “Fibro,” or “fibrous cement sheet” is another asbestos-based building material used for homes during that era. It was cheap, fire-resistant, and readily available, making it an attractive choice for builders at the time. But over time, we have discovered the dire health problems that asbestos exposure can cause. For this reason, you might consider getting an asbestos survey as a health precaution before construction begins.

Read on for more 1950’s fibro house renovation ideas.

Poor Insulation 

Lots of homes built during this period lacked the adequate level of insulation that we see in more modern homes. Depending on your renovation budget, you might consider upgrading your home’s insulation, or at least ensure that poor insulation hasn’t caused any dampness or other problems.

Cast iron plumbing 

Drain pipes were made of cast iron back in the day because of its long-lasting durability. But these days, many of these pipes show signs of corrosion. To prevent further plumbing issues, consider checking out or replacing your home’s cast iron plumbing.

Electrical safety

Homes built today require much more electricity than houses from the ‘50s. For this reason, the original wiring in your midcentury home might not handle the electricity that your current lifestyle requires. In addition, older wiring can become frayed or damaged, which can lead to electrical fires and other safety hazards.

Flooring options

1950s house styles are renowned for stunning hardwood floors. Parquet flooring is a particular gem that many homeowners seek to replicate today. On the other hand, the flooring at the time often was not insulated. This led to problems with splitting, borers, or other types of damage. It’s best to get an expert opinion on your flooring so that you can make an informed decision.

Colour matching analysis

The optimistic 1950s post-war era can be felt through the bright and cheerful colour choices in New Zealand homes. Think turquoise, mint green, pale yellows, and salmon pinks. If you wish to retain these exuberant shades in your home, you might consider getting an expert opinion to help colour match with other design elements in your house.

50s styled kitchen with turquoise accents

How to renovate a 1950s house – where to start?

A 1950s house renovation is no easy feat. Place your trust in the hands of an experienced home renovation and remodelling team like Refresh to alleviate some stress from the process and get the job done right. Our bespoke design-and-build process will guide you through the following steps to create the home of your dreams:


When you choose to work with Refresh, your designated Renovation Consultant will be your first and only point of contact to keep communication streamlined. Your Renovation Consultant will ask you to define your budget during your first meeting. Identifying a budget from the start can save you from headaches down the line, as your Renovation Consultant will work within those budget parameters throughout the renovation. And if any unforeseen, expensive issues arise, your Renovation Consultant will guide you on how to best allocate your budget to address these matters.


Assess the current layout of your home. Are there ‘50s design elements you’d like to keep, and what would you like to change? Many homes built between the 1940s and 1960s in Aotearoa were state houses that had a wide range of floor plans to choose from. These layouts were small, but efficient. Whether you’re working with a mid-century modern A-frame house or the iconic old red brick house, your Renovation Consultant will advise you on the best layout solutions for your home renovation, depending on your budget and lifestyle needs.


It is possible to maintain the classic charm of a mid-century house while also adding unique design elements to make it your own. For example, a recent Refresh project for a 1950s Queenstown Air BnB converted a rumpus room into two bedrooms to accommodate more guests. The addition of a wet room comes in handy for skiers on holiday. It’s little touches like these that make a big difference during your home renovation.


Before construction begins, build a solid plan with your local Renovation Consultant. From budgeting and project timelines to concept drawings and council approval paperwork, your Renovation Consultant handles it all. You have enough on your plate - leave it to the experts to guide you through your renovation. 

Updated 50s house with multiple windows

Behind the scenes: the most daunting challenges of 1950s renovations

All renovations come with their share of challenges. But it just so happens that mid-century homes can come with a few more, meaning these renovations require careful planning and inspection.

Faulty foundation

The older a structure is, the more its foundation becomes jeopardised. This Miramar tiny home confronted the massive obstacle of an unsound foundation. The Renovation Consultant on the job quickly worked to find a solution for the structural issues and made amendments to the home’s design plans to reflect these changes. After obtaining council approval for the new foundation, the renovation forged ahead and the end result is a mid-century modern marvel!

Fire hazards

Electrical wiring from the 1950s leaves a lot to be desired. Wires become frayed and the bandwidth is much lower than modern electrical systems. Upon removing the old switchboard in this Titirangi home, the team found old and damaged wiring that needed to be replaced to keep the home safe from potential electrical fires. While the homeowner incurred more costs, fire safety is a non-negotiable.

Walking the line between modern and traditional

A challenge in a lot of older home renovations is striking the balance between traditional design and modern improvements and embellishments. This is because once the renovation begins, it’s easy to keep adding contemporary improvements until the traditional character begins to fade away. This Hawkes Bay renovation retained the 1950s character that the homeowners admired, but added updated elements like fresh coats of paint, new tiles, and modern light fixtures for subtle cosmetic improvements to the house. 

Front porch with weatherboard details

Kitchen and bathroom renovations in 1950s homes

Kitchen upgrades

One of the biggest differences between 1950s house interiors and today’s style is the open-plan layout. Many modern homeowners prefer this design for their kitchen and dining room to create a spacious environment and connection with the kitchen to the entertainment area. This Ranui kitchen received an ultra-modern upgrade to cabinets and fixtures. To create the desired open-plan arrangement, a wall was knocked down to connect the living room and kitchen.

A distinguishing feature of these older kitchens is colour. ‘50s cabinets featured candy-coloured pastels, while flooring was chequered linoleum. You might consider keeping a pastel shade or retro flooring as a nod to your ‘50s kitchen’s character, or opt for a fresh, neutral or black colour palette instead. 

Bathroom upgrades

Bright and pastel colours made their way into 1950s bathrooms as well. This Te Awamutu bathroom received a major upgrade whilst retaining mid-century modern elements. Bright teal tiles run from the ceiling to the floor, where contrasting mosaic tiles create a beach-like feel. Another nod to ‘50s bathroom style is the installation of chrome fittings. This result was a bathroom that marries traditional design elements with clean and serene fixtures from a modern era.

More bathroom inspiration

Explore more ‘50s-inspired tile play with this Auckland bathroom renovation.

This Palmerston North bathroom modernises the mid-century look and feel with contemporary colour choices and sleek fixtures.

Incorporating smart home technology in vintage homes

Preserve historical charm while making modern improvements with smart home technology. There are ways to integrate these smart systems without compromising the vintage charm of your home. Your Renovation Consultant can advise you on the best options for your house and lifestyle needs.

For instance, smart thermostats make it easier to control heating and cooling, but they don’t take away from the look and feel of your ‘50s home. You could also find vintage-style kitchen appliances that have modern smart features. Another popular example of smart home technology for your ‘50’s house is the installation of motorised window treatments to open and close blinds and curtains with the touch of a button.

Grey weatherboard house

Key steps for a modern makeover of your 1950s house

We’ve gathered some of the major steps often required when renovating a 1950s home.

Changing flooring

Mid-century modern flooring is bold, unique, and oftentimes highly sought after. While you might like to retain parts or all of your mid-century home’s flooring, you’ll want to check with your Renovation Consultant about keeping or replacing your floors. This is because lots of homes lacked proper insulation in the flooring, leaving it susceptible to borers, splitting, water damage, and other issues.

Bathroom and kitchen

These two rooms see the most wear and tear over time. Careful inspection of these rooms is required to ensure they are properly sealed to prevent water damage. Oftentimes fixtures and fittings will require replacing due to overuse. In the kitchen, retain vintage charm by refinishing your 1950s kitchen cabinets instead of replacing them. Your Renovation Consultant will offer professional advice on how to modernise these spaces without compromising their classic character.

Improving lighting

1950s homes in New Zealand lack the number of natural light sources that we see in more modern builds. Speak with your Renovation Consultant to discover the best places to add more natural light whether via window, door, or skylight installation. Likewise, the addition of layered light sources from modern light fixtures, floor lamps, and LED light strips help brighten any space.

Taking Down Walls

The popularity of open-plan layouts isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Incorporate this modern, functional layout into your mid-century modern home by knocking down walls that separate the kitchen and living room, for example.

Replacing Doors or Enlarging Windows

Door frames were built smaller back in the day, and windows did not let in as much natural light as their contemporary counterparts. To allow for more light or a feeling of spaciousness in your home, you might consider replacing doors and enlarging windows. Your Renovation Consultant can help you find the best solution for altering your current doors and windows.

Back half of a 50s house exterior


How can I improve the energy efficiency of my 1950s home during renovation?

Ventilation and insulation in a 1950s house leave a lot to be desired. Save energy and money with investments during your house renovation. Upgrade insulation in your walls, ceilings, and floors with modern materials. Also, a new high-efficiency HVAC system can help with ventilation, heating, and cooling. 

How can I find reputable contractors or professionals for my 1950s home renovation?

Your Renovation Consultant has access to a vast network of reliable contractors in your area to work on your renovation. They will also serve as the single point of contact throughout the renovation process and manage the team of contractors working on your house.

Are there any permits or building codes I need to comply with when renovating a 1950s home?

There are typically a number of approvals needed when renovating a vintage home. Your Renovation Consultant will handle all necessary permits and paperwork to ensure that your renovation is code compliant.

Ready to get started?

Want to learn more about mid-century modern architecture homes or 1950’s ranch house renovations? Get in touch with your local Renovation Consultant to schedule a free, no obligation consultation to kickstart your home renovation!

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