Use of timber

Despite the very different appearance of the moderne/art deco house, many residential construction techniques during the 1930s did not change significantly from the previous decades. Houses were invariably on a piled foundation with a suspended timber floor and timber wall framing. Native timbers were still plentiful in the 1930s, and the timber from the planting of radiata pine forests that had begun in the 1920s was not yet available in large quantities.

Types of timber

Rimu was the most commonly used timber for general construction. Miro and matai were also widely used. Miro has a similar colour to rimu, but can be distinguished by darker markings in the grain, while matai is a reddish coloured timber that also has stronger grain markings than rimu. Totara, tawa, kahikatea and beech species may also be found. Some timbers such as oregon, baltic pine, westaren red cedar and redwood were imported. These were often the preferred timbers for doors and windows. The table sets out the range of timbers commonly used in art deco residential construction, their characteristics and where they were used.

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Timbers used in art deco houses




Rimu (red pine)
Durable (except in wet conditions), fine texture, medium density softwood
General framing, weatherboards, flooring, interior finishing
Miro Moderate durability, above ground use only, similar performance and use as rimu
General framing, weatherboards,flooring, interior finishing
Matai (black pine)
Moderate durability, above ground use only, prone to splitting
Flooring, weatherboards, exterior joinery
Durable, easy to split
Weatherboards, window joinery, interior flooring, interior finishing
Kahikatea (white pine) Not durable, prone to borer
Weatherboards, exterior joinery
Tawa Interior use only
Macrocarpa Moderately durable above ground (heartwood only)
Weatherboards, joinery, flooring
Beech - black Durable
General framing, flooring
Beech - red Moderately durable
Weatherboards, flooring
Beech - silver Moderately durable
Douglas For (Oregon) Moderately durable above ground (heartwood only), knotty timber
Wall framing, exposed beams, rafters
Baltic pine Interior use
Flooring, interior trim e.g. architraves, skirtings
Western red cedar Low density softwood, straight grain, coarse texture, good dimensional stability, weathers to silver-grey colour, dry sapwood susceptible to borer attack
Exterior joinery, posts, weatherboards, interior finishing, window opening sashes
Redwood Moderately durable above ground
Weatherboards, flooring, window opening sashes
Kaikawaka Moderately durable above ground

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Timber treatment

Many native timbers will decay, especially if wet. An early treatment to prevent timber decay involved painting the timber with creosote, a preservative made from coal tar. Creosote, which is almost black and has a strong pungent smell, was used until the 1940s when it was replaced by pressure treating timber with a range of preservatives.