Villa Woes: turning your rundown villa into a wow home

Would you describe your villa as charming but missing something? Many villas are just a diamond in the rough waiting to be brought back to life. Get inspired here...

Front of villa exterior with wooden steps and white railing leading to a green front door

By Joanna Jefferies

If you’re looking at transforming a villa from derelict to dynamite, then chances are you might be feeling overwhelmed at the task ahead. Because unlike younger homes, villas have been around for more than a Century and in that time they’ve typically undergone renovations, been patched up or settled at wonky angles. But it’s simply a matter of checking off a few key upgrades to the existing structure before you can transform that ugly duckling into a veritable swan. We’ve compiled a list of key changes you can make to get that WOW factor.

Shoring up

Before embarking on cosmetic renovations there are several improvements you’ll need to make. 

Top-of-the-house inspection: Firstly you’ll need to inspect the roof, gutterings and flashings above windows and replace or re-instate as necessary. Flashings have often been removed from windows and this can cause water to track in and behind joinery.

Floor structure: Once you’re water-tight you’ll want to look at the piles under the house. These may need shoring up or replacing completely depending on how uneven the floor is. This should always be done before any interior work as moving the piles can cause interior wall linings to shift and crack and you don’t want to have to do those twice! This is also a good time to insulate if there isn’t any insulation in place.

Facade check-up: Next, you’ll need to inspect the weatherboards and windows and have any rotten boards replaced, and any windows fixed or re-puttied. You’ll also want to have your chimneys inspected.

Power and pipes modernisation: Then, lastly, you’ll need to get wiring and plumbing examined by a professional. If you need to upgrade, it’s a good chance to decide if you want to make layout changes and to add in some extra power points. It’s also an opportunity to future-proof and install add-ons like surround sound or automation.

Now to add the WOW

By nature, villas can cope with a good dose of drama, says Refresh® Auckland Central’s Dave Georgetti “There’s a lot of stuff you can get away with that would be too much in a new build,” he says. But don’t feel tied to the era of the home, says Dave, because modern and old can look great together - just “don’t muck with the traditional layout.”

In a villa, this layout typically looks like a wide central hallway with rooms coming off of it. Upgrades usually involve an extension at the rear that can either be modern or ‘in-keeping’ with the villa, like this 1960s coastal villa in Plimmerton, Wellington.
To increase street appeal, Dave says you can add a lot of detail by installing new fretwork, corbels, finials and other flourishes that will make your villa seem much grander than it might ever have been.

dining area extension with an ocean view and slightly sloped ceilings with spotlights

Want wow walls?

Similar flourishes can increase the drama inside the house too. Dramatic colours or textured wallpaper on walls and detailed skirting and architraves are a start, but you can also add in ceiling roses, tongue and groove panelling, wainscoting, dado rails and pressed tin ceilings. Just “try to keep as much character as you can in a villa,” says Dave. The renovation of this 1910s villa in Feilding, Manawatu, featured elements that kept the home’s original character, while giving it a contemporary update.
If you need to replace wall linings it’s also a great opportunity to insulate.

Light it up

Villas are typically very dark as they were oriented toward the street and not to capture the sun. This means creating more light in the villa is key to making it really ‘pop’. Installing more lights, internal windows and skylights or solar tubes are all ways of increasing light in dark rooms. “Anywhere that you can create flooded light, through a stained glass window or skylight it’s going to make a difference,” says a Refresh Renovations expert. Creating an open-plan solution and installing spotlights in the ceiling allowed this 1980s villa in Huntly, Waikato to open up a brighter and more inviting kitchen, dining and living area.

While chandeliers are in keeping with the villa period and create a sense of grandeur, you don’t have to feel tied to them – there’s a wealth of pendant lighting with ‘wow’ factor and almost anything will look good, as long as the light is proportionate to the space it hangs in.

open plan kitchen with skylight and spotlights in the ceiling

Kitchen and bathrooms: to go old or new?

“You can definitely put contemporary kitchens and bathrooms in an old villa,” says Dave. Making these look impressive is the same for any other renovation: stone benches and a feature tile on the walls are excellent ways to create drama “Stone benchtops are timeless and if you’re trying to be period accurate, people are using bevelled tiles on splashbacks.”. A make-over of this 1970s villa in Parau, Auckland, resulted in modern kitchen and bathroom updates, with a playful kitchen splashback and bold, colourful tiles in the bathrooms. 

Luxe floor and window treatments

One of the outstanding features of villas are the wide native timber floors. Where possible have these patched and polished for maximum impact. Dave says he often stains these dark for added drama.

The choice of interior
If you want to add further luxe, a lot of that will come down to your interior choices -  drapes, floor treatments and colours.
“I always think linen or velvet looks luxe and creates a sense of drama. There’s a lot of stuff you can get away with that would be too much in a new build,” says Dave. “Hang your curtain rails really high – halfway between the top of a window and ceiling.” This will help create the sense of grandeur you’re after.

bedroom with dark wood floor and playful wallpaper

What’s important when extending?

If you’re doing an extension, make sure the new flooring matches the old. You’ll also want to make sure the skirting and cove matches. “The attention to detail in any reno, but particularly with a villa, is what really what gives it a wow factor.”

Keeping height
Ceiling height is also a key detail to consider. Villa ceilings are usually not less than 3m – “If you reduce it down to 2.4, you lose a lot of the feel of the place. Keeping the high stud would be an important factor in getting that wow,” says one of Refresh’s renovation experts.

The money-spending
When you’re on a budget, it’s important to also weigh up what’s going to be there long term and what can be easily changed down the track, explained the Renovation Consultant. For example, they would invest more in flooring rather than a kitchen that can be upgraded later on.

This 1920s villa in Remuera got a contemporary update with an exterior makeover

Hear from our customers

Our Renovation Consultants have completed hundreds of old villa renovations across New Zealand. See what some of our satisfied customers has to say about their work:

“We cannot recommend Steve and his team at Refresh Renovations® more highly. They were friendly & efficient and were very helpful in helping us plan our total renovation of our kitchen. When a problem arose as it does with old houses, we were treated more than fairly and were so grateful we chose to go with a reputable firm and will be asking them back in future to do some more renovation around our house” - John and Bubs.

Another happy client shared their thoughts about the updates of their old home:

“When we bought our first house three years ago we knew it needed some work, but thanks to Lia and her team we've started 2023 in what feels like a brand new home. Our little 1960's weatherboard house has been modernised without losing it's 'Kiwi' character. A bright new open-plan kitchen/lounge, a separate laundry, toilet, and bathroom, along with a master bedroom with walk-in wardrobe. All which was done on time, and during a pandemic - very professional. It is a home we are very proud of, and we have you, Tina, Mike, and all your team to thank.” - Tony and Yuki.

Get in touch

Interested in bringing out your villas potential? Get in touch with a Refresh Renovations® specialist to arrange a free consultation.

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