Kōrero: Home décor and furnishings

Whārangi 1. The significance of home décor

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The ways people decorate and furnish their homes, and the objects they choose to display, can reveal their values, aspirations and tastes. Décor and furnishings can also contribute to their sense of mental and physical wellbeing. For these reasons, many people take great care when decorating the interiors of their homes.

Home and family

Home décor has been influenced by social trends. From the 19th century in the western world, the middle-class home was increasingly seen as a refuge where people could enjoy family life. Ideally, it was a comfortable and convenient place to live and raise children, and also to receive friends and visitors. It therefore had to serve distinct functions, and interior fixtures and décor helped to demarcate public and private areas of the home.

Pride of domicile

In 1904 Malcolm Mason, the head of the Health Department, suggested that an attractive home was morally improving: ‘Pride of domicile is one of the most powerful factors in family life, and absence of it is accompanied by much that is antagonistic to the physical weal of the State.’1

Women and home-making

Also from the 19th century, home was seen as the domain of women, who were expected to create a cosy domestic environment for their families. Interior decorating was, and still is, generally a female interest and is promoted in women’s magazines. Women’s handcrafts, incorporating both ingenuity and creativity, were often a significant aspect of home décor.


Social class was reflected in home décor. People could subtly reveal their status, or the status they aspired to, through the quality of materials used and the types of ornaments displayed. The presence of books suggested the inhabitants were educated, original artworks hinted that they were cultured, and curios and souvenirs showed they were well-travelled.


The presence of expensive items in living rooms indicated that the owners were well-off, or hoping to be. In the 20th century, for example, status symbols such as a gramophone, radio and, later, a television or expensive sound system prominently situated in a living room showed that the inhabitants were upwardly mobile.


Even if the homeowner was not wealthy, home decorating provided an opportunity to exercise judgement in colours and arrangement of furnishings. The success of these efforts could be assisted by awareness of trends, but also depended on innate design sense.

Identity and tradition

The way in which a house was decorated revealed the personality and life experiences of the owner. Objects collected over a lifetime and framed photographs were the record of a person’s or family’s emotional history.

Making decisions about décor is an aspect of self-expression that often begins early in life. From the 19th century children often decorated their bedrooms with collections, toys and ornaments precious to them – part of the process of developing personal taste.

Influences on home décor

Home décor trends often follow architectural styles. But they have also been affected by social and technological changes, such as the advent of television, which have led to alterations in the layout and function of the rooms in a house, and the ways people live in them.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Quoted in Margaret Tennant, ‘The decay of home life? The home in early welfare discourses.’ In At home in New Zealand: houses, history, people, edited by Barbara Brookes. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2000, p. 28. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Home décor and furnishings - The significance of home décor', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/home-decor-and-furnishings/page-1 (accessed 19 April 2024)

He kōrero nā Nancy Swarbrick, i tāngia i te 5 Sep 2013