Written by John Williams
Photography by Jamie Cobel
Interestingly, because most original villas are roughly the same size and have very similar room layouts, the starting point for his designs often follow a tried-and-tested pattern. The two most significant variables that affect what can be done to a villa are the zoning of the property and its aspect to the sun. “Your typical villa is a four-room square box, with a hallway running from front to back and a lean-to tacked on the back – all in a 120-140sqm footprint,” says, Darren. “And for today’s family, that simply isn’t big enough. So we start by taking off the old lean-to,” he says. “More often than not they 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 at the back. Great. Now what?
With high peaked roofs and a generous 3.2m 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 up in the roof, comprising a generous bedroom, his-n-her walk-in wardrobes, and a fully tiled bathroom. But before you start dreaming about your upstairs sanctuary away from the kids, there are a couple of things to consider.
“Firstly, this is where your zoning comes in,” says, Darren. “If you’re ‘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.” What is clear with both is that you’re not allowed to make it look like you’ve added another storey to your house. Dormers and skylights are allowed, but their size and shape 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.” Darren continues. “And, if you’re lacking height in the loft, you will have to consider either dropping the ceiling on the ground floor, or slightly increasing the pitch of the roof… or both."
“Not all sites allow for underground parking, but if you can, I absolutely recommend it. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it."
Parking for up to three cars is now a prerequisite in the affluent city fringe suburbs and, out of the 22 renovations Darren’s currently working on, at least fifty percent have underground parking. “It’s the preferable option,”he says "and you will often find there’s room for a TV / media room and a wine cellar underneath the house, too. Both these are very desirable,” adds, Darren.
As with the loft conversion, gaining enough internal height is the key. Garages have to have at least a 2.2m stud. Depending on zoning and the type of ground your villa’s sitting on, you can either raise the existing structure, dig down, or a combination of both.
At the back of the house an outdoor room is a feature that Darren tries to incorporate into every design. “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,” says, Darren. “Then, to allow light in, we usually insert large glass skylights or an operable louvre system.”
Darren typically installs large sliding doors to the rear of the house. He prefers sliding doors over bifolds because they can open wider and stack completely out of the way, offering a seamless flow between the open-plan family room and the newly created outdoor room. Adding one of these outdoor rooms can boost your usable floor space by 20-30sqm.
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 the coming generations. I’ve no doubt you’ll have probably added a fair amount to your resale value, too!
Darren’s spoilt for choice. His light-filled office sits on the first floor of Ponsonby Central, above some of the best bars and restaurants in town. Bedford Soda & Liquor is his bar of choice and he’s a regular in The Blue Breeze Inn. If he wants a quiet moment away from the office, he sneaks downstairs to Tokyo Club for a plate of sushi and a cup of sake – he’s that close, his wifi still works down there! Darren lives just a couple of minutes drive from his office, near the West Lynn shops. There, his favourite watering hole is the ever-popular Gypsy Tea Room, and for a good coffee and weekend breakfasts, he wanders down to Savour & Devour.
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