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Auckland’s affair with character houses; a draughty love story

character home in onehunga

Despite the cold draughts, rattling windows, lack of insulation and dysfunctional layouts, Aucklanders love character homes. We understand why; the charm and quirks of these traditional homes can’t be replicated.

Why do Aucklanders love character homes so much?

There’s no way a new build will ever be able to replicate the feel of a true character home. With years of wear and tear and a history all of its own, these homes have stood the test of time, with generations of families growing up on their quarter-acre sections.

Generally, the homes are spacious, giving a lifestyle that sprawls into the surrounding yard. With master bedrooms with a generous floor area for large beds, and lofty sash windows that let the light in, they offer an easy elegance. The designs were built for New Zealand’s weather; long eaves to keep out the driving rain and harsh summer sun. The verandas allow easy living and a perfect place to store the BBQ.

The use of timber throughout is a hallmark of New Zealander’s earlier pioneers; the use of materials to hand mean that Rimu and Matai floorboards and joinery give a glowing warmth when stripped back, while kauri beams overhead give a strength and stability that’s hard to match. The years of footfall over the front step wears the stairs to a polished sheen and the high ceilings give even the simplest of interiors a dignified, classic feel. The doorframes with children’s heights measured in years, the plasterwork on the ceilings, the way the long summer days make the homes magic. That’s why we love them.

Villa or bungalow?

These terms seem to be used interchangeably for any character home but there are significant differences, mostly to do with their layout. Technically, a character home is one built in the 1930’s and 1940’s. They typically use natural materials and emphasise style.

Villas are usually large homes with a central hallway. Quite rigid in their design, rooms run off that hallway with bedrooms at the front and kitchens at the back. They have tremendous street appeal, often with large verandahs that are slightly inconvenient, designed for aesthetics rather than usefulness.

Bungalows have a better ‘life flow’, with rooms running off each other in a logical way. The bungalow is designed not for the street appeal, but to suit the site. In New Zealand, there are also ‘bungled villas’, a mix of the two.

Rarer in NZ are Victorian homes, built in the late 1800’s. Typically with a steep roof, front gable, shingles, bay windows and often more decoration, finials, and details.

Suburbs in Auckland with character homes

Of course, the older inner suburbs have a higher number of character homes. In Auckland, Grey Lynn, West Lynn, Parnell, Remuera, Mt Eden, Ellerslie, St Heliers, Sandringham, Ponsonby, Epsom and Sandringham offer rich pickings. Of course, they are all well-located close to amenities, in great school zones, and this means these gorgeous old homes command prices that many find unobtainable.

There are also a scattering of character homes throughout the city; grand remnants of the early history of NZ, such as this gorgeous Onehunga villa.

These homes are often protected by heritage-conserving laws. These require you to perform any renovations with dignity and sympathy to the original design. However, most buyers of these homes have purchased them with the intention of character renovations and are happy to meet the requirements.

Can you modernise a classic Auckland character home?

Of course you can- but a successful renovation needs to take into account a range of factors, not just the functional items.

Many home renovations of character homes focus on:

  • Insulation
  • Additional sources of heating
  • Fixing/ replacing rattly sash windows with double glazing
  • Layout changes to make large, open plan living with lounge, dining room and kitchen as one
  • Opening up the back of the home to large decks
  • Changing layout to move laundry towards the middle of the home, allowing for better flow

But the redesign needs to by sympathetic to the design of the house. New and old elements must fuse together seamlessly, retaining elements of the style of the past. For skilled character home renovators, this is simple to do; reusing materials as needed to incorporate timber, finding highly efficient modern joinery that still looks in keeping, and keeping the feel of grace and elegance.

If you are taking on a character home renovation, you need skilled, experienced builders. Here at Sika Homes, with hundreds of successful renovations under our tool belt, we know what to expect. We have trusted suppliers and subcontractors that will ensure a perfectly executed restoration, so you get the modern elements you need while retaining that unique look and feel that only a character home can provide. Contact us for a walk-through, quote and chat about what you want from your renovation.