Written by John Williams
Ponsonby-based architect Darren Jessop can legitimately lay claim to being the brains behind some of the best modern renovations of villas in Auckland. His innovative designs have transformed what were once humble abodes into some of the most desirable pieces of real estate in the city.
Interestingly, because most old villas are roughly the same size and have similar room layouts, he says his designs often follow a tried and tested pattern. “Your typical villa is a four-room square box, with a hallway running from front to back connecting the rooms, and a lean-to tacked on the back – all in a 120- to 140-square metre footprint,” says Darren. “And for today’s family, that simply isn’t big enough. So we start by taking off the old lean-to. More often than not, these are badly built and serve no purpose.”
So, after a bit of demolition, you’re left with an empty wooden box sitting on the front of your section, no off-street parking, and a neglected piece of dirt out the back. Great! you think. Now what? Well, that really depends on which way your house is facing, says Darren. “Typically, when these streets and the homes were first built, very little consideration was given to positioning them on their sites or which way they faced. The most important thing in those days was how they addressed the street, not what they were like to live in.”
The legacy of this mindset is rows of picture-perfect boxes, laid out neatly on both sides of the streets, all blissfully unaware of which point of the compass they happen to be facing.
“As architects, one of the first things we look at when we’re shown a site is how it addresses the sun.""After that, we determine where to place the house and which way it should face,” explains Darren. “With an existing villa or bungalow, we don’t have that luxury, so we need the make the most of what we’ve got. Sometimes we get lucky, but mostly it’s about designing the new part of the house to open up to the sun, while at the same time retaining or creating privacy.”
Frequently, in a modern villa conversion, the original four rooms are converted into bedrooms and a family bathroom – plus, possibly, a media room. The new structure is an open-plan affair, containing the kitchen, dining and living spaces, with easy access to the outdoors.
The shape, size and function of these spaces demands that the new structure has to be quite different from the original – large openings in the walls to allow easy access to the deck and garden, and in the ceiling to allow light to penetrate. A clear and defined design aesthetic gives the new part of the house a strong identity and at the same time allows the existing structure to retain its character.
Assuming that the constraints of the existing site and house allow it, what are the three most important features Darren tries to incorporate into his renovations to meet the requirements of a modern lifestyle – and also to add value when it comes to moving on?
With high, peaked roofs and a generous 3.2-metre stud below, going up into the loft space of your villa is an obvious route to take when trying to maximise its potential. Typically, Darren will try to fit a master suite into the roof space, comprising a generous bedroom, his-‘n-her walk-in wardrobes, and a tiled bathroom. But before you start dreaming about your upstairs sanctuary away from the kids, there are a few things to consider, the most significant being the zoning of the property.
“With zoning, if you’re designated ‘conservation’, it’s a little trickier than ‘heritage’, because one is stricter than the other when it comes to being able to alter the appearance of the street view of your house,” he says. What is clear with both, however, is that the finished result should not look like you’ve added another storey to your house. Dormers and skylights are allowed – and are essential – but their size, shape and position on the roof are determined by the town planners.
“Next, you need to think about where to put the staircase, as it will take up at least half a room in terms of floor area,” says Darren. “And, if you’re lacking height in the loft space, you may have to consider either dropping the ceiling on the ground floor, or slightly increasing the pitch of the roof… or even both.”
Garaging for at least two cars is now a prerequisite in the affluent city fringe suburbs and, out of the 20-plus renovations Darren has worked on in the greater Ponsonby area, at least half have underground parking.
“It’s the preferable option,” he says. “Not all sites allow for underground parking, but if you can, I absolutely recommend it. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it. And you will often find there’s room for a media room and a wine cellar underneath the house, too. Both these are also very desirable,” adds Darren.
As with the loft conversion, gaining enough internal height is the key. Garages have to have at least a 2.2-metre stud. Depending on zoning and the type of ground your house is sitting on, you can either raise the existing structure, dig down, or have a combination of these.
Within the privacy of the existing ‘back yard’, an outdoor room is a feature that Darren tries to incorporate into every one of his designs. “It’s mandatory these days,” he says. “In most cases, you’re allowed to extend the eaves of the roof to form a pergola without affecting your site coverage allowance. Then, to allow light in, we usually insert large glass skylights or an operable louvre system into the newly created roof space.”
Darren typically installs large sliding doors to the rear of the house. He prefers sliding doors over bifolds because they can open wider and be stacked completely out of the way, offering a seamless flow between the open-plan family space and the newly created outdoor room. Adding an outdoor room can boost your usable floor space by 20 to 30 square metres, he says.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to incorporate all three of these major features into your villa renovation, you will end up with a fantastic family home that will be future proofed for coming generations. And no doubt you’ll have added a fair amount to your resale value, too!