What is Art Deco?
With their clean lines and sharp shapes, Art Deco interiors, furniture, and building facades are some of the first designs we might think of as “modern.”
“Deco” is short for “Décoratifs,” or “Decorative,” part of the title of a design exhibition in Paris in 1925. Art Deco furniture and architecture gained popularity there in the 1920s and remained the style de rigueur in Europe and the US through World War II in the 1940s. The Art Deco period followed Art Nouveau, which had been gracing homes and public spaces since the 1880s.
Where Art Nouveau designs were known for undulating curves and floral motifs, taking their cues from nature—the Paris Metro station entrances are a famous example—Art Deco signaled a turn towards geometry. It was hugely influential for the Mid-century Modern designers to follow.
Art Deco is a distinctly urban aesthetic. It coincided with the Craftsman movement—which retained a connection to natural materials and imagery and valued hand-fabrication for America’s country estates—but Art Deco was associated with skyscraper cities, which were new at the time: New York, Chicago, Detroit, and more.
The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building were innovative geometric solutions to zoning laws, put into place to preserve sunlight as buildings climbed higher.
So Art Deco’s ethos was linked to the precision of machines and the glitter of wealth in new industries. The 1927 film Metropolis is considered the first science fiction movie, and it takes place in an elaborately imagined Art Deco city.
This is a dramatic and striking style of the 1920s to 1930s. Its main focus is on glamour and luxury.
More than ten years later, in 1939, the New York World’s Fair showcased corporate and government visions for living integrated with technology, each exhibit housed in breathtakingly beautiful Art Deco buildings.
Eileen Gray was one of the most influential industrial and furniture designers at the time; an Irish ex-pat in Paris, she forged new respect for women in the field. Given all these developments, the Art Deco style is synonymous with the future.
Designers could not have invented Art Deco elements without the influence of the German Bauhaus school, which started up in 1919, but members of the Bauhaus and the Dutch De Stijl school leaned harder into the purity of shape, color, and craftsmanship. Art Deco was about glamor. And it still is.
Redecorating your home with an eye towards Art Deco can give you vintage luxury without clutter or fuss. And we have the benefit of hindsight: its range from the gleaming Roaring Twenties to the elegant muted 1940s gives you lots of Deco tones to choose from. If you want warmth with a clean look, try these modern Art Deco furniture pieces.