Story: Home décor and furnishings

Page 4. Between the wars, 1920s and 1930s

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Bungalow style

A new style had been creeping into New Zealand architecture in the early 20th century in response to changing patterns of life – the bungalow. Unlike the formal, highly ornamented villa, the bungalow had a simple, efficient layout. This recognised that most New Zealand households had few if any servants by this time. Large dining rooms were replaced by small breakfast rooms and nooks, the parlour or drawing room became the living room, and floor plans became smaller. By the 1920s, when many returned servicemen were marrying and buying homes in new suburbs, the bungalow style prevailed, and continued to for two decades.

A decorating masterpiece

English immigrant Dorothy Monkman followed colour fashions when decorating the new bungalow that she and husband Frank rented in Mt Albert, Auckland, in 1929. The kitchenette was painted blue to tone with her blue-and-white china, with black and white lino tiles on the floor and grey curtains. The pale green sunroom also had grey curtains, and there was patterned wallpaper in the bedrooms and front room. She wrote to a friend ‘My hall is the masterpiece, I think, in red, black + beige. I have three Tattersfields rugs … and I shall stain + polish the floor around them.’1

Inside the bungalow

Interiors were often influenced by arts and crafts style. Rooms had lower, beam-and-panel ceilings, and might be wood panelled, with rimu a popular choice. The fireplace still dominated the living room, sometimes inset into an inglenook flanked by built-in seats and leadlight windows. Other furniture, such as bay-window seating, was often also built in, as were kitchen cupboards and benches to fit around new electric stoves and other appliances.

Wallpaper was still used by some, but now walls were often panelled with newly available plasterboards and painted. Exposed floorboards in most rooms were covered with Persian and other rugs, but kitchens and bathrooms often featured linoleum or congoleum (the forerunners of modern vinyl floor coverings). The bathroom and toilet, once separate from or tacked onto the back of the house, were now centrally situated and, because of the new stress on health and hygiene, were often white-tiled to suggest cleanliness. Elsewhere, pastel colours were fashionable.

Decorating trends

The classic bungalow interior drew on the simple, elegant arts and crafts style, but Spanish mission-style furniture, with its massive appearance, was also popular. Ballet Russe style, which evoked ‘oriental’ interiors through heavy fringed and tasselled cushions and lampshades, enjoyed a vogue. However, New Zealanders tended to be conservative, so ‘revival’ styles remained common in 1920s interiors.

Art deco

After the devastating Hawke’s Bay earthquake in 1931, another architectural style became increasingly popular. Known as art deco, it was heavily influenced by the sophisticated, streamlined interiors in American movies. The plain, flat-roofed, stucco exteriors of art deco houses were dominated by large ‘picture’ windows which let sunlight inside, an innovation believed to be health-inducing.

The effect of brightness was increased by the vibrant colours used in interior furnishings. Classic art deco motifs such as the chevron, ziggurat, sunburst and horizontal stripes patterned carpets, curtains, upholstery and cushions. They also decorated or dictated the lines of furniture and ornaments. Modern materials such as chrome, Bakelite and early plastics were used. Some aspects of deco style lasted into the 1940s and 1950s. But house exteriors and interiors did not always match, and often interior trends associated with earlier architectural styles continued.

  1. Letter from Dorothy Monkman to friend Win in England, 9 June 1929. MS-Papers-6185-1, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Back
How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Home décor and furnishings - Between the wars, 1920s and 1930s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 June 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 Sep 2013