What to consider when redecorating a villa

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Interior design can either be about creating a home that looks new and current or, in the case of older properties such as villas, it can be about conserving and showcasing the character of the past. If you are not planning to totally gut and refit your villa, but rather bring it up to a modern standard while still retaining some of the character, here’s are some of the things to consider as well as a few decorating tips for a fabulous result.

First of all, what is a villa?

From the 1880s through to WW1, as urban populations increased and families needed more than a one or two-room cottage, the villa became the most popular house design in New Zealand. Initially they were simple abodes, but as more affluent customers began demanding them they increased in complexity and decoration.

Villas became popular again with home-buyers in the 1980s and are still in demand today. With around 85,000 villas in NZ, renovation of these kinds of properties is very common.

Issues that often affect villas

Here are some of the things that are often problematic in villas and need to be considered as part of your renovation:

  • Unsuitable layout
  • Dates fixtures and fittings
  • Electrical rewiring
  • Living areas do not face the sun
  • Bathroom/toilet not near service areas
  • Small kitchen
  • Poor indoor flow
  • Poor indoor/outdoor flow
  • Not enough natural light in many rooms
  • Lack of electrical sockets and light fittings
  • No garaging
  • Low ceilings
  • Non-compliance with current Resource Management Act constraints (eg. side yards, site coverage, ground clearance, etc.)
  • Limited or difficult access to side walls for maintenance/repair.
  • Undersized structural members (eg. rafters, floor joists, limited bracing to walls, roof and subfloor, sagging of joists or bouncy floors)
  • Potentially dangerous brick chimneys with lime mortar
  • Borer, rot and mould
  • Asbestos
  • General aging and deterioration of building materials
  • Illegal and dodgy modifications done by previous owners

Clarke & Clarke in Midnight Spice

Functional considerations

Matching new to existing

If additions and alterations have been made over the lifetime of the villa, you’ll need to decide if you want to keep these and incorporate them into your new design, or tear them out and start anew.

Also, you’ll need to keep in mind that any new construction will need to match and merge with old. The original materials may no longer be available to build with and you’ll need to make decisions about whether to try and make it work with what you can find, or start over.


Villas were not made with insulation and even if some has been added over the years it will not be sufficient by today’s building code. Add lots of new insulation.

Moisture and weathertightness

The original structure of villas allows good air circulation so they will have coped well with moisture over time. If making your villa more airtight during renovations be sure to include a ventilation system.

Foundations and subfloors

Be aware that many villas need to be replied or leveled and some have poor foundation bracing and ground clearance.

Internal walls and ceilings

Common problems include the need to incorporate hard lining, walls that are out of plumb or corners not square, cracked plaster ceilings, draughts or jammed windows and doors (through settlement, paint build-up or broken sash cords). Read more.

Darwin by James Dunlop in Oyster Grey

Decorative considerations


If you’ve fallen in love with the beautiful molding, trim and door details, paint them all one colour to hide the imperfections that have collected over time.

If the trim is in good or great shape, you could choose a neutral contrasting shade to make it stand out. Using this same colour on the ceiling too really brings the look together and is quite stately and grand.

Hero stained glass

If you’re lucky enough to have original stained glass, make a feature of them by painting the surrounding areas white.

Curtains and blinds

The choice is yours, but opting for an inside mounted blind keeps vintage window trims on display. Blinds also help to modernize the property while still retaining character.

Villas and older homes sometimes have quirky, small windows in unusual places (compared to the way we design new modern homes). Curtains or sheers are better for these.

Storage and shelving

Villas don’t tend to be huge and are notoriously lacking in built in storage. Incorporating floating shelves into your new look will rectify this without taking up valuable floor space.

Make room zones

Sometimes older homes have unusually shaped rooms, a long rectangle for example. If you have a large budget you could choose to shift walls and create new spaces. If not and you’re sticking with the layout you have, break these rooms into smaller square zones by using rugs and open-sided furniture. That way it will look like you have designated areas but they are still all visually linked.

Learn what to consider in picking the right curtains for your home

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