Kōrero: Home décor and furnishings

Whārangi 6. Nostalgia and materialism, 1960s to 2000s

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

From the 1960s two quite different attitudes affected interior-decoration trends in New Zealand. One was an interest in and valuing of New Zealand’s architectural and design history. The other was growing material expectations, fuelled by rising standards of living.

The generation gap

Social change from the mid-1960s influenced the way people began to think about the decoration of their homes. A new outspoken, optimistic and independent generation of young people was determined to break with the past. Many rejected the values of their parents and the modernist interiors they had grown up with. They created eclectic living spaces that were vibrant and fun, bringing together bright colours, pop art and old furniture and objects, often modified or repainted to fit the decorating scheme.

Changing roles

From the 1970s more women entered the workforce. They had less time for housework, but families had more money to spend on household items. Houses increasingly incorporated new labour-saving appliances such as bathroom heaters, freezers, dishwashers and clothes dryers that were now regarded as essential adjuncts to convenient modern living. Easy-to-clean, comfortable furnishings such as fitted carpets, once considered a luxury, became standard.

‘New colonial’ style

In the 1970s young architects, inspired by New Zealand’s past rather than overseas trends, began to design homes that referenced colonial cottages. The interiors of these houses had small intimate spaces rather than open plan areas, and mixed natural materials and surfaces, particularly wood, with bright colours such as orange and yellow, and chunky, abstract shapes. Household items such as crockery and kitchenware were displayed, creating a cosy, cottagey feel that represented a break with modernist ideas.

‘Doing up’

From this time, too, people began to buy and ‘do up’ old inner-city villas and bungalows, which were relatively cheap to buy. Preserving the character features, both interior and exterior, of these houses was considered important, but most people upgraded the service areas – bathrooms, kitchens and laundries. Kitchens, often fitted out with native-wood joinery and breakfast bars, became open plan in style, emphasising their place at the heart of the home. More antiques and collectibles stores helped meet the demand for furniture and accessories of the appropriate period.


In the 1980s international postmodernism began to influence New Zealand architects and designers. They made a statement through playful references to older styles. Deregulation of the New Zealand economy led to a growing disparity in incomes, and those who did have money could afford to spend on their houses. A new glamour and theatricality was evident in the use of glittering materials such as glass and steel in both exteriors and interiors. Expanses of pastel colours and white added to the effect. Contemporary furniture was constructed in the high-tech style, which incorporated industrial materials, and Memphis style, which used asymmetrical forms and strident colours.


Auckland was the seat of another ground-breaking 1980s design trend, known as Pasifika. It reflected a new view of New Zealand identity, which was a mix of Pākehā, Māori and Pacific cultures. It blended bright colours and Polynesian motifs with elements of postmodernist design. Pasifika was often evident in locally made ornaments and household objects, including ceramics and glassware.

Recycled interior décor

For some, concern for the environment, and the massive popularity of the Trade Me website, made recycling chic in the 2000s. Buying second-hand furnishings and household objects became an important aspect of a sustainable lifestyle.

Looking back

In a reaction to 1980s excess, the 1990s and beyond saw many people look again to the past for interior design inspiration. While fashionable houses and apartments themselves might be modern, they were often decorated with art, objects and furniture from previous eras. Neutral walls and polished wooden floors became the backdrop for collections of Crown Lynn ceramics, locally made ‘mid-century’ furniture, Kiwiana or crafts of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Often, old and new styles coexisted happily in homes that now included innovative technology – such as desktop computers, digital televisions and gaming consoles. In the 2000s many New Zealand interiors conveyed an impression of a distinctive place in the world, and a sense of the history of that place.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Home décor and furnishings - Nostalgia and materialism, 1960s to 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/home-decor-and-furnishings/page-6 (accessed 22 May 2024)

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