Modern design ideas for Art Deco houses

We look at how to utilise the uniqueness of Art Deco style in a modern way.

Last updated: 14 March 2024

Houses built in New Zealand in the 1930s have an enduring character that’s still popular today. But while the homes’ unique facades look as good today as when they were built, their interiors and layout often need updating to align with modern living standards.

Symbolising speed, power and flight, the decorative themes on Art Deco homes include sunbursts and fountains, skyscraper shapes, and geometric patterns. A distinct departure from the fussiness of Victorian-era homes, Art Deco houses feature curves combined with geometric shapes, arches, domes, flat roofs and plaster surfaces. Here are some easy ways to integrate these styles when modernising an Art Deco home.

Cover image: 77b Turret Road, Tauranga South, Bay of Plenty

The key features of Art Deco houses and how to incorporate them into an upgrade

In recent years arches and biophilic shapes (common in Art Deco architecture) have experienced a resurgence in popularity, and homeowners are adding arched windows, doorways and circular windows into their home renovations.

Plaster surfaces, popular in Art Deco building exteriors, are also trending, but innovations in mean plaster surfaces are no longer exclusively used outside. Interior polished plaster walls are a great way to inject Art Deco style into any home, and a range of finishes can be chosen from super textured to egg-shell smooth.

Another popular feature of Art Deco houses is reeded glass, which can be used in contemporary interiors to add sophisticated detail. Popular applications of reeded glass include shower doors, kitchen cabinetry and backsplashes.

Art Deco house floor plans: what to keep and what to change

While Art Deco houses presented beautifully detailed, geometric facades to the street, their internal layouts were often not as enduring. Often featuring a central foyer with a rabbit warren of dark rooms intersecting it, they are not designed for the open-plan living, light, and privacy we expect of modern homes.

When changing the layout, indoor/outdoor flow, privacy from neighbours, and multiple living zones for family members all need to be considered. Opening out the back of the house or adding an extension are popular ways to create the space needed for modern living, but don’t forget to integrate the character of the original house where possible, including curves and plaster, decorative scotia, skirting and ceiling roses.

Updating Art Deco house colours: staying sympathetic to the era

Colour was a key feature of the Art Deco era, and soft, romantic, pastel tones were commonly used as well as brighter jewel hues and gold accents.

When integrating these colours into modern designs, take inspiration from the opulent and whimsical colour schemes of buildings in New Zealand’s Art Deco capital, Napier. Built predominantly in the 1930s after the 1931 earthquake, the dirty pinks, mint greens, butter yellows and gilt detailing express the rejuvenation and hopeful feeling of the decade.

The Dulux Colours of New Zealand Heritage Collection is a great place to start. Developed in consultation with heritage architect Joanna Theodore, whose expertise in heritage architecture and extensive research, including paint and wallpaper archives and site visits, informed the collection. While allowing for historical accuracy, the schemes have been designed to take a fresh approach towards heritage design, with colour palettes that work well with New Zealand homes and buildings today. The Heritage Collection comprises 48 colours, which are arranged into eight individual palettes. Each palette draws inspiration from a New Zealand landscape reminiscent of a particular era in our colour evolution, spanning a historical period from approximately 1830 to 1930.

Essential upgrades to Art Deco homes to make them warm and energy efficient

Homes built 100 years ago certainly don’t measure up to today’s expectations around warmth and energy efficiency. Key upgrades to Art Deco homes include underfloor, wall and ceiling insulation, and the installation of heat pumps and extractor fans.

To take comfort to the next level, have window and door joinery replaced with double or triple-glazed units, ensuring Art Deco detailing is integrated into the new joinery to maintain the home’s style.


HOME Magazine
HOME Magazine

Since 1936, HOME has showcased New Zealand residential architecture; homes that are designed to inspire, challenge and delight, by the country’s best architects.

In every issue we invite our readers into these homes, telling their owners’ stories at the same time as explaining how these remarkable buildings came to be.

Simultaneously, HOME celebrates New Zealand’s best design, interiors and landscapes – every element of the places we call home. It explores the wealth of creative talent that exists in New Zealand and our evolving built environment.

HOME is a highly collectible and beloved part of people’s lives; at once contemporary and timeless, thoughtful and stimulating.