New Zealanders have a bit of a love affair with villas and bungalows. Sure they have their downfalls, like being cold and drafty with questionable layout and flow. But we forgive them for these sins because they're relatively easy things to fix and we're suckers for a renovation.

At the end of the day villas and bungalows have the kind of street appeal, charm and character that you just can't buy new, yet mixes perfectly with new. With that in mind, here's a guide for how to modernise a character home the right way.


1. Honour Heritage

Where you can work with existing features of the home, these are likely to be of very high quality. The original floors of bungalows or villas, for example,  typically have solid tongue and groove floorboards made from native timbers.

Try to recycle what you can, such as old doors and floorboards. Restoring them back to their former glory is cost-effective and rewarding. Just beware of rot and borer with floorboards - if there's too much you might want to look at laying new floor over top. This is often a better option than replacing completely as you could come across issues once the floor is taken up.

For sourcing additional character features, try Trademe.  You can also buy new at Bungalow & Villa. They specialise in manufacturing renovation products for character homes and can even custom make products.


Mixing contemporary elements with original features creates a classic look that never dates. Villa bathroom image from

2. Insulate & Heat

The biggest downfall of an older character home is that energy efficiency was really not on the radar when they were built. No insulation, drafts and a lack of heating appliances are issues you want to address early on for the sake of your health and comfort.

Address insulation first by adding it to the ceiling and floor then walls if you have the budget. Rattly sash windows can be draught-proofed and retrofitting with double glazing is always a good option too.

Traditionally villas have open wood fires, nice to look at but not so good at keeping you warm. If you love a wood fire but want something with more grunt and efficiency, a glass fronted wood fire is the way to go. Here are some good looking and efficient wood fires

For the most natural looking gas fireplaces that have the added bonus of convenience and heat, you can't go past an Escea Gas Fireplace. While the perception is that gas fireplaces are costly to run, the truth is a modern, close-fronted gas fireplace costs the same to run as a wood fire.  Escea gas fireplaces have 5 star efficiency ratings and can run at up to 90% efficiency (compared to 45% for an open-fronted fire). More on their technology here


A 5 star efficient Escea DL1100 is ideal for heating large, open plan spaces, as seen in this renovated villa by Jessop Architects.


Modernising your existing fireplace is a simple and cost effective way to improve your homes heating. Here an Escea DF960 has been retrofitted into an existing cavity. The bricks have been given a new lick of white paint to seamlessly fit in with the rest of the room.


3. Shake up the Layout

Villas and bungalows are all about street appeal, but the back of the house is a different story. It's like they used up all their energy making the front of the house and just ran out of time when it came to the back.  Typically the homes were designed around a central corridor with rooms opening off each side, with the bedrooms and living rooms at the front of the house and the kitchen and laundry at the back. This back section is known as the "lean to" and its connection with the backyard of the house makes it rife for renovation.

A popular solution for these homes is to open the back rooms up and create one large kitchen, dining and living space with outdoor patio or deck that flows onto the backyard. Adding large doors and windows maximises light and space in this area. Another bonus of this is the front of the house is left untouched structurally so you get to keep the best of the character features.



Auckland villa extensions, both by Jessop Architects.

4. Connect old with new

One of the most important things to get right when modernising an old home is the cohesion of the new with the old. Without good aesthetic flow, any extension will feel disjointed and 'hacked on.'  This doesn't mean the new part of the house can't be clean and modern, this look works well in villas and bungalows, but make sure you continue the same colour schemes and materials throughout the home for continuity.

Jessop Architects always specifies the kitchen to keep the look consistent with the whole of the house. So, for example if dark oak wardrobes and cabinetry has been used in the bedrooms and laundry this matches the kitchen.


Jessop Architects modernised this villa with dark oak cabinetry in the kitchen, a feature found throughout the home.