Future Houses

What kind of houses will we be building in the next five years?



We canvassed builders and designers to get a feel for how New Zealand house designs are changing, and the kind of homes we’ll be building in the years ahead.


While the size of homes has steadily increased over the last few decades, that trend is definitely on the wane. As is the traditional kiwi dream of a good sized quarter acre plot. The two main driving factors are cost of land, and changing societal factors as people try and adjust their lifestyle aspirations to accommodate the new ways we are living and working.

One of the most notable changes that will impact builders in the future is the increase in medium density housing, not just in the main cities, but in other urban areas as well.

URBAN DRIFT: The concept of apartment living gained its initial foothold in Auckland and Wellington in the late 1980s, but has since spread to smaller cities and some commuter towns. This move towards urban living has been gaining traction in New Zealand over the past five years,and demand for terraced houses and small apartment complexes is on the rise.

As ADNZ CEO Astrid Andersen puts it: “People are starting to realise the benefits of living close to the city. They don’t necessarily want to be mowing their lawns and trimming their hedges. “They don’t want that twelve or three hour commute each day, it’s such a waste of valuable time. Ten to 15 hours a week commuting seems a bit pointless.”

MULTI UNIT TREND: Winstone Wallboards Marketing Manager Troy Smith also confirms the demand for stand-alone multi-unit terraced house developments, and predicts a need for smaller low-rise apartment complexes. “At some stage in the future, we’ll see mini apartments – four to six storey buildings – coming on. It’s not that the apartments themselves will be small, just the complexes “Terrace housing fulfills a certain need, as do large apartment complexes. But it’s in the middle where there is a big need and opportunity.” 

THREE-PLUS BEDROOMS? Among group home builders, there is consensus that three-plus bedrooms is the norm (often including a multi-use room that acts as a study/ spare bedroom). But there is some evidence that this may also change over the coming years as an ageing population downsizes and re-calibrates their needs. Retirement developments are a big growth area, but for some people, the idea of moving to such a facility doesn’t cut it. Says Astrid: “Sometimes I think people are building for what the real estate agents are saying will sell - three plus bedrooms. We are in a catch 22 because that’s all that is available for sale – there is not a good selection of smaller housing options in the market. “If you want a nice two bedroom place with a bit of outdoor living, that’s really hard to find. People believe that three plus bedrooms is what the market wants, but the market doesn’t have the choice.”

SMARTER USE OF SPACE: While half a century ago, a small house on a large site was typical, the reverse is now true. The average section size has shrunk big time. As a proportion of land use, a typical 1970s single storey 120m2 house on a 1012m2 section (11.85% site coverage), had evolved by 2011 into a 210m2 house on a 450m2 site (46% site coverage). Paradoxically, the reasons for this increase in size are not due to increasing family size. Families are in fact becoming smaller. “Families are getting smaller and the houses have been getting bigger, and I think there’s a push back from that,” says Astrid. “We’ve got to get better at designing for smaller spaces. It’s about multi-use spaces and being clever on how you do that.” Ellie Porteous of G J Gardner observes: “Land is getting more expensive so people are trying to maximise what they do on a smaller land footprint. “We are seeing, particularly in Auckland, more shared wall developments, two and three storey homes with small sections.”

CHANGING KITCHENS: Being the hub of the home, the kitchen is unsurprisingly one area where design trends are evolving in noticeable ways. “We’ve seen big changes in kitchen design,” says Ellie. “People are really getting into the butler’s pantry type of thing. People are entertaining more in the kitchen area rather than the lounge, and it’s about making sure the kitchen is neat and tidy. So they want a food preparation area that’s out of sight.” Astrid describes the trend as going full circle. “Forty years ago, we used to have a kitchen that was shut off from the house, then a dining room and a lounge. It’s ironic; we are sort of going back. It’s like a mini kitchen they’re creating. And the kitchen is more like a dining room.”

MULTI-PURPOSE SPACES: While the concept of a dedicated media room became popular a decade or so ago, the evolution of media and family habits have brought about a requirement for more multi-use spaces. Dual “lounges” are common, where adults can have one lounge, and children the other. “Mum and dad can watch TV in one space and the kids can watch TV or do their video games in a different space,” says Ellie. “Increasingly, garages these days are often for extra storage and you don’t see cars in them.” Indoor-outdoor living spaces are changing too. Instead of decks and patios being exposed to the weather, people are choosing to carry the roof-line out to achieve an outdoor living space that’s protected and usable all year round.

IMMIGRATION IMPACT: Tourism has been a huge growth industry for New Zealand in recent years. Immigration is following a similar path. One begets the other, as people in a world facing increasing challenges recognise the unique attributes of a New Zealand lifestyle. Nearly 40% of people living in Auckland today were not born there. While many kiwis have moved to the big smoke from other parts of New Zealand, there is a large percentage of people from other countries living there who are well accustomed to city living, in smaller spaces, closer to where they work.

The government is actively encouraging immigrants to settle in other areas outside Auckland, and it is likely that the demand for multi-unit developments will steadily increase. So if you’re a builder working in New Zealand’s cities and larger towns, there’s a high likelihood that in the future you won’t be building one house at a time, but several houses all joined together all at once.