Building form

Other typical features included minimal decoration consisting of designs such as chevrons or zig-zags, and a shallow recessed porch.

Parapet walls and roofs

Instead of a pitched roof with overhanging eaves, the predominant feature of the art deco house is parapet walls which conceal the roof from the street.

The parapets could either be:

  • continuous around the house, concealing a low-pitched, butterfly profile roof that sloped towards a central gutter (Figure 1), or
  • a partial parapet across the front and sides of the house only, concealing a low, single pitch roof that sloped towards a wall (Figure 2).

The parapet could be at different levels, for example stepping down towards the rear of the house or rising to a high point on the centre front facade. Stepped parapets tended to reflect changes in roof height.

Roofs were either flat or very low-pitched (typically 10˚ or less) and eaves gutters seldom had an overhang. This and the central gutter with the continuous parapet meant that roofs had poor drainage and gutters readily became blocked. Gutters also failed because the soldered joints in them fractured, or the iron corroded.

Later art deco houses sometimes dispensed with the parapet and had instead a single-pitch roof with a large overhang on all sides to give the appearance of a tilted slab placed on the roof. This roof form may have been adopted in response to weathertightness issues resulting from the inappropriateness for the New Zealand climate of the low-pitched roof (see Problems and remedies).

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Walls and windows

A typical feature of stucco-clad art deco houses were the rounded corners or walls. In some cases the curve became a full semicircle. The front facade might also consist of a series of curves that stepped towards the rear of the house. These were dubbed ‘waterfall’ houses.

A bank of windows typically followed the curve where it was deep or semicircular. Weatherboard-clad houses could also incorporate curved walls by faceting the weatherboards, and there are examples where weatherboards are fixed vertically at the corners.

Windows generally consisted of a series of casements to create a larger window opening (figures 3-6). In some instances, casement windows were located on either side of a larger ‘picture’ window.

A pair of windows meeting at a corner, with no substantial wall framing between them, was a common feature. Casements were side-hinged, and generally consisted of a number of vertically arranged panes of glass. A fanlight window, which could appear as part of the casement or as a separate window, was sometimes included above.
Earlier art deco houses often had picture windows divided into three by horizontal glazing bars, emphasising horizontal banding. This was abandoned as glazing technology improved, allowing larger panes.
A series of casements were often faceted to match the curve of the wall. In rare cases, windows had curved glass to match the curve of the wall. This is not a common feature of New Zealand housing, and there is no evidence of curved glass being manufactured in New Zealand.
The faceted windows appear to be the equivalent to the bay or bow windows that were a common feature of the villa and the bungalow but seldom found in art deco houses.

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Art deco houses had largely featureless exterior facades that were broken only by the windows and doors. Many New Zealand claddings are typically smooth plaster with a textured ‘splash coat’ in various patterns – by contrast, in most overseas countries, houses were almost always smooth finished.

The plaster finish was further enhanced by windows and doors that were not defined or framed by cover boards at corners or facing boards around doors and windows.
Other cladding materials included brick (particularly in brick-producing areas such as Huntly), bevel-back weatherboards, and concrete.

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Decorative features

The only decorative features on the walls were bas-relief art deco designs such as chevrons or zigzags, motifs such as planets or a rising sun, or sometimes simply horizontal or vertical parallel bands or lines. While the houses sometimes had a pastel-coloured dye in the plaster, or were painted white or a pastel colour, the bas-relief patterns were picked out and emphasised by stronger colours (Figure 7-10).

Houses where the stucco was dyed were frequently painted at a later date.

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The main entrance to the house could be located in the front or at the side of the house and was generally protected by a shallow, recessed porch. To increase the level of shelter and provide emphasis, a flat canopy roof with broad curving corners often projected out from the porch. Wide, curving entrance steps often mirrored the overhead canopy. The back door was also generally located in a shallow recessed porch but without the canopy of the front entry.

Two-storey construction

Two-storey art deco construction was common (Figure 11). Occasionally the top storey was only to a part of the house, with part of the ground floor roof accessible so that it could be used as a terrace or deck. A parapet wall concealing the deck, or industrial-style steel pipe balcony rails, typically provided a barrier for the upper level.