How to bring warmth to New Zealand's iconic Kiwi villas

  • 30/05/2022
  • Sponsored by - Escea
How to bring warmth to New Zealand's iconic Kiwi villas
Photo credit: Jessop Architecture

While New Zealand's iconic villas make stunning homes with their historical yet timeless architecture and detailing, the buildings are notoriously cold and difficult to keep warm throughout the winter months. 

Dating back to the 1860s, these quaint and quintessentially Kiwi villas were constructed without insulation. Compounded by thin glazing, high ceilings and time-worn crevices, the homes can be tricky to heat effectively, especially without compromising their classic look and feel.

If you're looking for a way to introduce heat into your home while respecting its classic character, retrofitting could be the best bet. Retrofitting is the process of modifying a home after its initial construction and occupation, which can involve changing its systems or structure to improve the amenities for its occupants. 

Enter Escea. Born in the deep south of New Zealand, the fireplace manufacturers for many Kiwi villas ensure the historical homes are warm and comfortable for its inhabitants without comprising their original, period features.

Escea DF990 gas fireplace.
Escea DF990 gas fireplace. Photo credit: Supplied

For 1800s villas that require a special touch, Escea's DF Series fireplaces make a great fit for homeowners who want to spend cosy nights connecting with family by the fire during the colder months - capturing the nostalgia of the traditional, time-honoured fireplace.

"The DF Series was designed for renovators, but specifically as a solution to the open fireplaces that feature in so many kiwi villas and bungalows," says Alex Hodge, the lead designer at Escea Fireplace Company.

"We wanted to provide a safer, more convenient and more efficient fireplace, but also something reminiscent of the wood fires that came before them. We did this by stripping away all the unnecessary visible detail and maximising the flame."

Escea DF960 gas fireplace. Design: Inspired Interiors. Image: Graham Warman.
Escea DF960 gas fireplace. Design: Inspired Interiors. Image: Graham Warman.

With a high output capable of heating the entire space, the DF Series were created with a room-sealed design to prevent heat escaping up the chimney, maximising their efficiency - making them the perfect fireplaces to keep the whole family toasty warm.

Despite the modern technology, the DF Series still respects the villas' heritage elements, without compromising on heat. Mimicking the appearance of an original component, the fireplaces feature a realistic fuel bed and flames reminiscent of a real, burning wood fire -  fostering the same sense of connection families once felt when gathered around the hearth.

"The shape and size of the DF Series, particularly the smaller DF700, is designed to fit inside an existing brick fireplace cavity. The series also features flexible flue technology, meaning the flue can be run right up the existing chimney - making the process of upgrading your fireplace as easy as possible," Hodge adds.

Escea DF700 gas fireplace. Design: Pleysier Perkins. Image: Tom Blanchford.
Escea DF700 gas fireplace. Design: Pleysier Perkins. Image: Tom Blanchford.

Restoring charm, respecting character and bringing warmth: How to heat your villa

For the owner of a Kiwi villa, re-fitting or retrofitting its existing features will restore and respect its classic heritage characteristics, such as timber joinery as opposed to aluminium, says Emma Hoyle, the creator of her eponymous interior design studio Emma Hoyle Interiors.

She agrees that retrofitting an old, open fireplace typical of the villas with a room-sealed, efficient gas fireplace is the best bet - but there are other factors to take into account. 

"The New Zealand villa was constructed entirely from native timbers and adorned with generous verandahs, large bay windows and high stud ceilings. They are a beautiful blend of both decoration and architecture through the use of symmetry, proportion and embellishments of fretwork and filigree detailing," Hoyle says. 

"However, these iconic homes are notoriously difficult to heat as they were constructed without any insulation. Thin glazing, gaps and crevices make them cold and draughty homes to live in."

Firstly, Hoyle suggests altering the shell of the home first by insulating the underfloor, walls (if possible) and ceilings. There are natural wool options or recycled products on the market, she says. From there, a renovator could explore their options of re-fitting or retrofitting the existing windows with double glazing for added benefit.

Escea DF960 gas fireplace. Design: Emma Hoyle Interiors.
Escea DF960 gas fireplace. Design: Emma Hoyle Interiors.

"Then follows the heating component," Hoyle says. "Ducted heating systems that can vent into multiple rooms are always the best option as you want to try and keep the heat even. This could be either HRV or central heating with ducted vents. 

"I do prefer floor-vented systems for villas due to their high ceilings as the air comes from floor level and rises, in the same manner as fireplaces. The added benefit of villas being constructed off the ground is it makes access under the floor space much easier to retrofit.

"Gas fireplaces are super efficient to run and are a fantastic option, and become an anchor to the living spaces."

Finally, renovators should consider the dressing and window treatments, Hoyle says.

"Curtains can minimise heat loss with lining. I tend to use a three-pass blockout as it has both insulation and blockout properties. Ensure the drapes completely cover the architraves and openings and go to the floor," she suggests.

"Curtains are a great addition to the house as they are practical and also soften a room."

Hoyle acknowledges there are huge benefits of both structural changes, such as flooring and insulation, as well as heated appliances, such as installing an Escea DF Series gas fireplace.

"I feel these go hand-in-hand," she says. "I think it is incredibly important to address the key issues of the home as a priority, as this is what will retain heat.   

"After the insulation, joinery and draft prevention has been addressed, your heating systems are going to operate much more efficiently. If you are undertaking a full renovation, think about adding underfloor heating to colder flooring surfaces, and particularly adding these to more moisture-prone areas.

"Floor treatments such as wool carpets and large-scale rugs all bring warmth to spaces. Wool has so many added benefits as it is natural, biodegradable and renewable."

This article was created for Escea.