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All about Art Deco

Regional and special colour palettes

Napier’s Art Deco buildings wouldn’t attract the tourists nearly as much as they do if they hadn’t been enhanced by their pastel colour schemes, which draw attention to the intricate bas relief decoration on their stucco facades.

These have been encouraged by the Napier City Council’s Art Deco Improvement Grants, which are paid to the building owners when they repaint, provided that the colour scheme has been approved by the Art Deco Trust.

In most cases, the Trust provides the colour scheme as well, using a palette of warm pastel shades, which are an echo of the original colours.

When Napier was rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake, the cement used in the stucco was tinted with oxides, including pink, green, blue and a variety of biscuit and ochre shades. Although this resulted in a remarkably colourful townscape at a time when most inner city buildings were grey cement plaster or brick, and paint colours were limited, those buildings would be rather sombre compared with the huge range of paint colours that we’re now used to seeing. So Napier today is more colourful than it was in the 1930s, yet still retains the softness and warmth that it had in the 1930s.

Resene works closely with the Art Deco Trust to keep Napier’s buildings resplendent in their Art Deco style.

The style we now call Art Deco originated in Europe in the early years of the 20th Century, and its heyday was from 1920-1940. It became widely known following the great Exposition des Arts Modernes Decoratifs et Industriels, held in Paris in 1925 and from which its name was ultimately derived. By the late 1930s it was in its streamlined phase and after World War 2, the International Style, devoid of all decoration, held sway. In the late 1960s, interest in the Art Deco style was rekindled and this interest has continued to grow.

Art Deco expressed all the vigour and optimism of the roaring twenties, and the idealism and escapism of the grim thirties. Its decorative themes are:

  • Sunbursts and fountains – representing the dawn of a new modern age.

  • The Skyscraper shape – symbolic of the 20th century.

  • Symbols of speed, power and flight – the exciting new developments in transport and communications.

  • Geometric shapes – representing the machine and technology which it was thought would solve all our problems.

  • The new woman – revelling in her recently won social freedoms.

  • Breaking the rules – cacophonous jazz, short skirts and hair, shocking dances.

  • Ancient cultures – for oddly enough, there was a fascination with the civilisations of Egypt and central America.

All of these themes are represented on the buildings of Napier, most of which are still standing today and are lovingly cared for by their owners.

Art Deco Building - McDonalds
Art Deco Building details
Art Deco Building details

The Art Deco style was at the height of its popularity for buildings in 1931. Its clean simple lines and base relief decoration suited the needs of the new city...

  • Art Deco was fashionable. With its past destroyed, Napier looked ahead and chose a style associated with Manhattan, the movies and modernism.

  • Art Deco was safe. With its emphasis on low relief surface decoration, Art Deco forsook the elaborate applied ornamentation that had fallen from the buildings in the Napier earthquake and caused so many deaths and injuries.

  • Art Deco was cheap. Its relief stucco ornamentation was an economical way to beautify buildings during the low-point of the Great Depression.

Other architectural styles for the period were also used – the Spanish Mission style from California, and both Stripped Classical and Classical Moderne, the styles of Greece and Rome but simplified and modernised. And local architect Louis Hay’s work strongly reflects Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style in the United States mid-west, which developed in the early years of the century.

The four architectural practices in Napier in 1931 banded together to share facilities and bring a unity of purpose to the task of rebuilding the town, working in shifts around the clock. But they continued (except in rare cases) to design the buildings individually. These firms were:

  • E A Williams, who favoured the Art Deco style.

  • Finch & Westerholm, which designed mainly in the Spanish Mission style.

  • J A Louis Hay, who usually designed buildings inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and occasionally Louis Sullivan.

  • Natusch & Sons, whose work tended to reflect the growing modern movement.

Other architects who worked in Napier in the 1930s were J T Watson who arrived in 1934 and became Borough Architect, and architects from other cities, chiefly Wellington, who were retained by banks, insurance companies and hotel chains to design their buildings throughout New Zealand.

  • The more contrast between sheen levels – the better! Pair the luxurious matt finish of Resene SpaceCote Flat with the gloss of Resene Enamacryl.

  • Look for high sheen finishes – furniture, table tops with glass or metallic finishes.

  • Smoky, pastel tones are enhanced with Resene SpaceCote Flat.

  • Gold is a popular metallic of choice for furniture, décor – use Resene Gold or Resene Gold Dust.

  • Use repetition. Repeat geometric forms, the shape of structural elements e.g zig zags, triangular shapes, chevrons, sweeping curves, sunburst motifs.

  • Exteriors – Pay attention to the detailing and key art deco elements.

    • Curved walls and windows.
    • Curved stairs to front door entrance.
    • Steel window joinery.
    • Plastered walls.
    • Flat roofing behind stepped parapets.
    • Glass bricks.
    • Terrazzo paving and tiles.
    • Window awnings.
    • Bay windows.
    • Ornamental cornices and mouldings.
    • Zigzag, chevron and sunburst detailing.

    Remember even subtle contrasts between tones can highlight the architectural elements. 

    View the Art Deco colours of Resene

If you dare to bring the drama of the roaring twenties into your home, a stylish and swanky wallpaper is the perfect place to start. Try one of these designs from the Resene Modern Art Wallpaper Collection – available from your local Resene ColorShop – to introduce some serious style.

note: most collections available 2-3 years only. The swatches below are from the Resene Modern Art Wallpaper Collection.

Resene Modern Art Wallpaper Collection - 309331
Resene Modern Art Wallpaper Collection - 433937
Resene Modern Art Wallpaper Collection - 610918
Resene Modern Wallpaper Collection - 433241
Resene Modern Art Wallpaper Collection - 433227
Resene Modern Art Wallpaper Collection - 620924
Resene Modern Art Wallpaper Collection - 433210
Resene Modern Art Wallpaper Collection - 433234
Resene Modern Wallpaper Collection - 433609
Resene Modern Art Wallpaper Collection - 433647
Resene Wallpaper Collection - 610734
Resene Wallpaper Collection - 309317

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