Modernising art deco homes

Lynne Whitteker
Written by Lynne Whitteker
Russells Consultant
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Many people purchase this style of home because they love the character and want to restore rather than renovate the interior. However, some updates will be absolutely practical and necessary, such as addressing weather tightness and insulation/energy efficiency, especially as art deco homes were designed to face the street, not follow the sun. Here’s our advice on which parts of the home will likely need to be brought into the 21st century, and how you can still keep some of its special character.

What to renovate and what to restore

To achieve the best of both worlds - character and contemporary living - we advise renovating service areas (kitchen, bathroom, laundry) to enhance their usability while retaining original features such as decorative mouldings, archways and windows in living spaces. You may also want to add space, which will have to be as an extension out the back to retain the decorative street front. Learn more about art deco architecture in New Zealand here.

Common modernisations include:

  • Roof alterations and stucco re-cladding
  • Re-wiring
  • Installing insulation
  • Relining internal walls
  • Removing internal walls to create open plan living
  • Replacing wooden windows with aluminium frames
  • Adding decks/patios and external doors

Be sure to check first if your local council has any restrictions in place protecting art deco homes’ special character. This art deco home in Palmerston North is a great example. The homeowners have used bold colour to breathe contemporary life into this home. It works because they’ve kept the colour palette simple with black, whites and wood with mostly gold and yellow highlights. It’s how they manage to have modern design items side by side with vintage pieces. Check out the light fixture in the lounge – totally modern but in line with the principles of art deco style.

How to give your home the art deco look

Curtain fabrics and wallpapers are great ways to give your home authentic personality. What most of us know as art deco style likely actually covers a few different eras, so here is a summary and some examples of fabrics you can use to get the look in your home:

Art Nouveau

Typified by decorative motifs inspired by nature and found in both soft furnishings and hard features such as ceiling mouldings. For this style, choose jewel tones and opulent and intricate patterns inspired by nature, eg. peacock feathers, dragon flies, flower and leaf shapes, and curving lines. This collection of fabrics represents the more stripped back side of art nouveau.

Art Deco

Art deco was all about glamour and opulence and being what was at the time considered - ultra modern. Decorate with fabrics and wallpapers with repeating geometric patterns like steps, zig zags, arches and angular intertwining lines, even animal prints. Use contrasting colours such as silver and gold on black and cream; and materials such as chrome, bronze, marble and polished walnut. Here are two fabric collections to inspire you:

Streamline Modern

Inspired by technological advances in aviation and industrial machinery, unlike art nouveau and art deco before it, streamline modern style heroes practicality and simplicity over ornateness, although patterns do still bear some similarities such as repeating arcs and layered zig zags. To recreate this style introduce materials such as glass block walls and mirrored paneling, and choose neutral colours paired with semi-muted blues and greens.
Read more about interior style history in this James Dunlop article, including the rest of the 20th century and up until now.

Blinds for modern windows

For a more contemporary look, consider blinds as window furnishings as they’re often quite minimalist in aesthetic, so they won’t detract from more decorative internal features. Our honeycomb blinds have a softer look and are great for insulating which could be necessary in an older art deco home. Venetians blinds work well as their timeless linear look is both modern but also in keeping with an art deco mood. Or we offer an innovative hybrid of blinds and curtains called Veri Shades®. Ideal for large windows and for covering glass doors.
They tilt for light and privacy control like a vertical blind, but close to offer the look of a light filtering curtain. Read more in our blog article ‘The best blinds for modern homes’.

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