Theory & Research – Art Deco
Written by Rebecca Dix
Art Deco in Interior Design
“Art Deco is a design style from the 1920s and 1930s in furniture, decorative arts and architecture characterised by its geometric character”
Art Deco is a style that arose in 1925 in reaction to the late 19th and early 20th century Art Nouveau movement. where ornamental and organic lines and forms defined Art Nouveau, Art Deco embraced a geometric aesthetic which took inspiration from Cubism, Fauvism and unfamiliar styles of ancient Egypt, China, Japan and India.
The term ‘Art Deco’ was derived from the exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925, where the style was first exhibited. the movement represented modernism and translated that into fashion and culture. Its products included both uniquely crafted luxury items and mass-produced goods, but all products were to have a sleek and anti-traditional elegance that symbolised wealth and sophistication.
The Art Deco style spread across Europe to the United States and Britain, where it became a favourite for building types associated with the modern age, garages, airports, ocean liners, cinemas, swimming pools, office buildings, department stores, power stations and factories. There were overlaps with Modernism, with the use of clean lines and minimal decoration, but the style also lent itself well to buildings associated with entertainment, providing glamorous interiors for hotels, restaurants and luxury apartments.
Art Deco was first used on public and commercial buildings for both its practicality and modern design. Entrances were often extravagant, roofs tended to be flat and windows were made up of continuous bands of glass.
The key elements of Art Deco architecture can be summarised as follows:
1. Streamlined Design – Movement created through line
2. Bold Shapes – Clear outlines and strong profiles
3. Geometric Design – Angularity with an emphasis on colour and contrast
4. Colour and Decoration – Bright colours, bold patterns and new, luxurious materials
Interior Design Characteristics
Art Deco is characterized by strong geometric shapes, bright and contrasting colours and luxurious and exotic materials. The stylistic elements seen inthe architecture of the time were similarly reflected in the interiors of buildings.
Art Deco was about making a statement. When it came to colour, all hues from reds to yellows, to blues to black were used. The common element was the level of saturation and intensity of colour to give impact to an artwork, interior or product.
Added interest came from the way colour was used for example in pattern and contrast to metallic elements of the designs.
Art deco design made use of a range of materials, but typically deco style ensured a luxurious, glossy or reflective finish. For example, timber was highly polished, or given a lacquered finish that at the time had an unparalleled glamour. Lacquered furniture was a key element in luxury art deco design.
The tenancy toward high shine was also demonstrated in the heavy use of metal and mirror. Metallic elements were incorporated into furniture and mirror was used on walls and furniture to reflect light and add a sense of glamour.
Bold pattern was a key characteristic of art deco design. Patterns that were widely used throughout deco interiors included leaves, branches and feathers; trapezoids, chevrons and zigzags; stylized animals and nudes; sunbursts, and jagged, stepped or pointed edges that are reminiscent of skyscrapers.
Statement, geometric floors were a popular art deco trend. For example, polished chevron parquet flooring and back and white tile design gave a strong art deco aesthetic. Pattern was seen everywhere; floors, walls, ceilings, furniture.
Art Deco celebrated modern life and emphasized luxury and sophistication. Art Deco furniture reflected this by featuring new materials like chrome, plastic and plated glass, as well as expensive exotic materials such as ivory, mahogany and dark lacquered surfaces.
Original 1920s Furniture Design
A lot of furniture created during the Art Deco movement made use of expensive and exotic hardwood and veneers. popular timbers included ebony, macassar, zebra-wood, burr walnut, maple and mahogany. Ivory and metal inlays, marquetry and veneers ensured there was stark contrast within the furniture design and emphasised the sense of wealth and luxury.
Below are some contemporary 1920 photographs showing the interior design trends of the art deco period. the use of pattern and geometry is clearly evident as well as opulent and luxurious materials.
Modern day interpretation of 1920s furniture design
A modern take on Art Deco design adheres to the streamlined, aerodynamic, symmetrical, geometrical and modern look that is typical of traditional art Deco design, but many contemporary designs have been brought up-to-date with more modern materials, proportions and details.
The use of geometric motifs, contrasting colours, and high shine, luxurious materials such as mirror and lacquer gives modern furniture an art deco look and feel. similarly making use of the same woods and veneers that were popular in the 1920s gives an art deco nod to contemporary furniture design.
Below are some examples of modern day furniture design making use of these elements: