Although Art Déco reached its zenith in early to mid-20th-century Europe and America, it is a movement that remains influential today. Art Deco style can be adapted to fit any interior with both original products and contemporary reworkings easy to source.
The history of Art Deco
Surviving the roaring 20s and subsequent two decades, Art Déco was a striking feature of interior design until it gradually fell out of favour in the 1950s. The movement first appeared in the ‘Exposition Internationale des Art Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes’ held in France in 1925. Art Deco was very much about arts and crafts, influencing not just furniture and home decor but fashion, jewellery and architecture. Art Deco grew out of previous movements – Cubism with its geometrical focus, the stark simplicity of Constructivism and Futurism and the more opulent Art Nouveau that immediately preceded the Art Deco movement. Art Déco also brings in touches of classical antiquity as well as Egyptian and Aztec art. This iconic and instantly recognisable decorative style is now seeing a resurgence in home decor whether lavishly applied in Great Gatsby style or with a subtler touch.
Characteristics and themes of Art Déco style
Elegantly glamorous, modern and, above all, functional, Art Déco was seen as a step away from the overblown extravagances of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. It was about making a big, bold statement with a focus on geometrical symmetry and a generous use of steel as well as expensive materials such as gold, crystal, jade and lacquer. It was also a chance to make decorative use of new materials such as chrome, developed for the home appliance and automobile industries in the 1920s.
Touches of Art Déco can be used with a subtle hand such as in colours, patterns or lighting or you can go for bold Art Déco glamour throughout your home. Whichever route you take, there are certain design elements in common which we’ve outlined here.
Colours and finishes
Bold colours and strong use of contrast are one way of creating an Art Déco effect. Think deep shades of yellow, green, red and blue mixed in with silver, black and chrome. In contrast, Art Déco also makes use of a softer palette with cream, beige and pink mixing and matching in living areas and bedrooms. These softer colours beautifully complement wood and lacquered Art Déco furniture accented with mirrored silver or chrome. As well as colour, the finish of a piece is also an important component of Art Déco style. Furniture can be polished to a high gloss, reflective with mirrors or lacquered to a high sheen.
A key starting point for your Art Déco interior could be a statement pattern. Leaves and feathers replaced earlier plaids and floral chintzes while geometric shapes, chevrons, stylised figures of animals or nudes, zigzags and jagged edges all say Art Déco. Either be bold with your pattern use, mixing and matching liberally or finishing walls with striking geometric wallpaper. Alternatively, take a more subtle approach and use patterned cushions, curtains or rugs to accent your Art Déco colour scheme.
Art Déco furniture was streamlined and unfussy, reflecting developments in the industrial world of automobiles and aeronautics. Strong use was made of exotic woods as well as chrome, mirrors and lacquer. Go for fewer but larger pieces of furniture to add Art Déco style to your home. Choose generously sized chairs and sofas in geometric shapes or with sunbeam backs and finished with polished chrome legs. Cabinets should be tall with slim legs and have a light-reflecting mirrored or lacquered finish. Slim handles and metal detailing in brass or chrome accentuate the pieces. Bring Art Deco luxury into a room with one key piece, such as a side table or a cabinet, that features an inlay. Inlaying with metal, mother of pearl or even gold is a skilled and effective way of creating the bold motifs so typical of Art Déco.
Floors are the perfect canvas for geometric Art Déco patterns. Create an abstract design in black and white tiles or use polished parquet to create the look. Add a striking contrast with layers of woven chevron or zigzag rugs in bold colour contrasts.
Glass (sometimes etched or enamelled) and chrome were the main materials used in Art Déco lighting with cubist shapes replacing traditional chandeliers. Create extra pools of light with the wonderful colours of Tiffany-style enamelled lamps.
Have fun styling a modern version of Art Déco in your home with some (or all) of these ideas.