How to Decorate Art Deco
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Today we’re going to take a deep dive into everything related to the Art Deco interior design style – and how to get the timeless and coveted Art Deco decorating style in your own home!
What is Art Deco?
Art Deco, sometimes known as just ‘Deco’, is kind of a catch-all term for design produced between the two World Wars. It had its peak in the 1920s and 1930s, disappeared for a bit, then reappeared in the 70s and 80s, and now has recently made another resurgence.
The design movement originated in France just over a century ago, before World War I. It was a wildly popular style and influenced everything from interiors to graphic design, to architecture, cars, boats and household appliances. The extravagances of Art Deco continued until World War 2 broke out.
The name “Art Deco” comes the French words Arts Decoratifs and was coined after the Paris 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes. Despite its European origins, the style also really exploded in America. If you’re planning a trip to the US, check out this article to discover the top 10 most Art Deco-packed American cities!
With the outbreak of yet another war, Art Deco became more of a sad reminder of a promised glittering future that never arrived and was therefore deemed inappropriate (borderline obscene).
Starting in the 1940s, the world started transitioning into modernism, or what in interior design terms we would now recognize as Midcentury modern.
Art Deco Influences
Art Deco style was influenced by many elements such as cubism, constructivism, Italian futurism, fauvism and even the Russian ballet. It’s also definitely worth mentioning that the discoveries that were being made in archaeology at the time – in particular the tomb of Tutankhamun and the artifacts discovered within it in 1922 – heavily inspired a lot of elements that today we recognize as Art Deco.
Obelisks, pyramids, ziggurat and inverted ziggurat motifs, geometric patterns and decorations, stylization and angularity, are a few examples.
‘Traditional’ French Art Deco VS ‘Late’ American Art Deco
100 years ago, Art Deco was first an ode to luxury and glamour, and then to technology and progress.
The Art Deco period can be divided into 2 periods: the earlier Traditional French Art Deco movement, and the later Streamline Moderne period which was developed in the US. Some people prefer to separate the two styles, but personally I view them both as Art Deco.
Art Deco is not to be confused with Art Nouveau. The two styles are very different! In fact the birth of Art Deco was somewhat of a reaction to the organic, flowing nature of Art Nouveau. I know a lot of people confuse these two styles so I just wanted to make that clarification!
Early French Art Deco
The earlier Art Deco period was a result of France trying to re-establish its role in luxury trades. Luxury objects made from the most expensive materials like ivory, sharkskin, onyx, silver and even emerald, were handcrafted for the wealthiest members of society. Mass production in early Art Deco was not a thing.
Something that is not mentioned a lot is that a lot of the materials and craftsmanship actually came from the French colonies of the time, as the French Government encouraged artists to take advantage of colonial “resources”.
Popular motifs belonging to the early Art Deco era are:
- vertical emphasis
- stylized human figure sculptures
- stylized plants, animals and flowers
- abstract geometric decoration
- parallel straight lines, zig-zags, chevrons, lozenges
- intense colors
Later American Art Deco
After the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, a more sober version of Art Deco emerged in the USA, called “art moderne” or “streamline moderne” . The style was “streamlined” by industrial designers and stripped of its ornament in favor of a more aerodynamic look which communicated motion and speed.
Popular motifs from the later Art Deco era are:
- horizontal emphasis
- curving and cylindrical forms
- long horizontal lines
- rounded edges
- corner windows
- glass block walls
- mirrored panels
- nautical elements and references to the sea
- heavy use of white and light blues in architecture
Streamline Moderne appeared most often in buildings related to transportation; many ships were also designed in this style, in fact the French actually called the style ‘paquebot‘, which means ocean liner.
Contrary to the luxury earlier French Deco which prized itself for being exclusive and handcrafted, the Americans mass-produced their products which obviously made the style broadly accessible and helped contribute to its immense popularity.
The Art Deco Revival of the 2020s
The Art Deco of the roaring 20s was an extremely exciting period, but let’s not forget that it also witnessed a period of political unrest, the great depression and even a global pandemic. I’m sure the similarities aren’t lost on any of us…
Some believe that today’s resurgence of Art Deco is due to a desire for structure and stability during these uncertain times we are living.
That may very well be, but I think it’s also more simply a reaction to a couple of decades worth of the minimalism trend. I’m not saying every single person out there has been an extreme minimalist for the past 20 years, but after the craziness of the 80s (which coincidentally, is the last time Art Deco really had a revival in interiors), people were craving simplicity.
Minimalism definitely became one of the strongest design narratives after the 80s. It’s very obvious especially when we look at things beyond interiors, like for example product and interface design, and branding. Minimalism was pretty much everywhere. But now, I think people are ready for something a little more luxurious, a little more fun, and a lot more visually interesting.
It’s exciting to see this style being re-interpreted in a new way, the way it’s being mixed with other styles, and it will be interesting to see what it might evolve into!
Art deco Interior Design elements
Glamorous, striking bold colors
Art Deco hues are vibrant and dramatic and the effect of statement-making colors throughout the Art Deco period was based on saturation, depth, contrast, and bold statements.
Silver, black and chrome are frequently used alongside bold, saturated colors. Colors such as bright yellows, reds, greens, blues, and pinks were trendy and clashing hues? Even better.
Of course bold and saturated jewel tones aren’t the only way to use color in today’s form of Art Deco decor: pairing those jewel tones with pastel palettes and more muted and soft colors is a method often used in today’s re-interpretations of Art Deco.
Choose more toned down, neutral hues such as creams and beiges, for a more serene Deco-inspired interior. These neutrals also pair well with the silver or chrome accents.
Art Deco patterns and motifs are very rhythmic and linear, with an emphasis on vertical lines, powerful patterns and tight repetitions. Look for stylized patterns depicting animals like swans and cranes, lilies, arches, semi-circles, peacock feathers, fans and florals.
You can incorporate these patterns into your wallpaper or fabrics.
Art Deco flooring of the 1920s was frequently composed of hardwood, tiles, or even marble, and were a good indication of the era’s luxury. If you’re looking to create an Art Deco inspired floor, consider using a distinct pattern when you lay your wood, like herringbone or chevron, or use tiles with striking geometric patterns.
Slick, Lacquered Surfaces
Art Deco is all about high gloss surfaces and reflective materials. So, anything with a lacquered finish would be right at home in an Art Deco style space.
Lacquer is a clear or pigmented coating that dries by solvent evaporation to produce a hard, durable finish. The finish can be of any sheen level from ultra matte to high gloss. In the case of lacquer used in Art Deco decor, the finish to use is always high-gloss.
And if you’re not ready to commit to an entire piece of lacquered furniture just yet, there are always lacquered trays and catch-alls which make great decor items.
If you want to introduce a large lacquered piece, my tip is to not overdo it with the “gloss” effect in your room. A single high gloss piece of furniture is plenty to make a big impact. Anything more can become quickly overwhelming instead of classy.
Other extravagant elements such as exotic woods, crystal and animal prints are elements that will lend themselves to the Deco interior.
How to decorate in art deco style
So now that we know what some of the main design elements of Art Deco are, how do we combine them to create a modern Art Deco in the 2020s? Let’s take a look at some starting points for decorating an Art Deco inspired interior.
Add sculptural decor and furniture
Sculptures and other works of art were abundant throughout the Art Deco period. So it’s never a bad idea to introduce a sculptural tchotchke or two!! But if you have a bigger budget, you’ll make a bigger impact if you introduce sculptural furniture.
Curved sofas and armchairs and waterfall style consoles are pieces that would bring a great sculptural presence to an Art Deco style space. Curved shapes introduce a gentle softness into a room so it makes sense that people are embracing this trend at the moment.
Velvet furniture is also very art deco revival and feels very luxe and glamourous.
Waterfall style furniture is one of the most iconic types of Art Deco furniture. The name comes from the fact that it resembles a flowing waterfall because of its unique curved drops at the horizontal surfaces.
(Not to be confused with waterfall-style kitchen islands, although the principal is exactly the same, however waterfall kitchen islands tend to have perfectly straight right angles, whereas Art Deco waterfall furniture is curved where the horizontal meets the vertical.)
Many major retailers are embracing the revival of this style and have started producing lines of furniture and lighting which have Deco silhouettes – here are just a few examples:
Use metallic accents
It’s not Art Deco without the glamorous sparkling decorations and reflective finishes!
Just like mirrors, metallics reflect light back into the space and has the potential to give a sense of grandeur. Metallics of all kinds have risen in popularity in recent years, including gold, brass, copper, and chrome, so you’ll have no problem finding the perfect accessories for your art deco space.
There are many ways to incorporate metallic decor; it can be in the form of candleholders, faucets, cabinet hardware, wall sconces, vases, furniture legs, etc.
Check out this MASSIVE roundup of every type of gold decor!
Include geometric patterns
Trapezoidal, zigzagged, and triangular shapes, chevron patterns, stepped forms, sweeping curves, and sunburst motifs are all hallmarks of Art Deco, which can be seen in everything from furniture and architecture to jewelry, fine art and graphic design.
A fantastic way to instantly bring a pop of Art Deco patterning into your space is to use wallpaper.
You can of course also introduce geometric patterns through upholstery and other fabrics and textiles as well. Or in other creative ways such as divider screens, stained glass like in the picture below, or wherever else your creativity takes you.
Install eye-catching lighting fixtures.
In the 1920s and 1930s, light fixtures were dramatic, beautiful, and sometimes even futuristic in appearance. Table lamps, chandeliers, and sconces were traditionally fashioned of steel, chrome, or polished bronze, and the shades out of glass. This gave Art Deco its signature gleaming, streamlined appearance.
The quality of light was really important to Art Deco lighting designers. As a result, textured glass that was sandblasted, enameled, or engraved was highly prized due to the different lighting effects that that these finishes produced.
Some common design features that may be seen in an art deco lighting design are fixtures with long, vertical silhouettes and crisp aerodynamic lines, tiered lighting fixtures, and shades that obscure the bulbs with fanned-out forms.
If you are needing to choose a lighting fixture, you can really take this as an opportunity to create a statement art deco moment in your space. If you’ve already got several deco elements in your space, you may want to pair a much more contemporary lighting fixture with the existing elements.
➡️Still not sure how to pull together an Art Deco style room? Try this:
1. add Art Deco wallpaper
2. add a statement, sculptural piece of furniture in a coordinating color
3. add something with strong geometric lines.
4. add a metallic accent
Where to shop art deco?
Here are several stores you can check out to shop for the Art Deco look!
High Style Deco
High Style Deco was started by Howard Williams in 2004 with a concentration on Art Deco furniture, lighting, art, and accessories before extending to cover the finest of Mid-Century items, culminating in a collection that encapsulates the best of the twentieth century. High-end deco, on the other hand, comes for a premium, but you can rest certain that the pieces are carefully created, genuine, and of the finest quality.
Art Deco Collection.com consists of Art deco collections ranging from furniture, and lighting fixture, to accessories. The store represents the owner’s passion for collecting as well as his vision to assist serious and experienced collectors in navigating the e-commerce components of modern shopping.
Cygal Art Deco
Cygal Art Deco is a furniture design business founded by a family with a passion for the craftsmanship of art deco furniture, decorations, antiques, and lighting fixtures. If you’re looking for quality made furniture pieces to complete the Art deco theme for your home, this store is a must-visit.
French Art Deco Furniture Inc
This company has been in the Art Deco Industry for 25 years. The owner is a direct importer of all French Art Deco furniture into the United States and his direct access to the top French sources enables him to offer the highest quality things obtained from Hotels, Chateaus, and Private Estates. He frequently flies directly to France to personally buy his treasures and sell them at deeply discounted wholesale prices.
1stDibs is a very well-known online marketplace. They have been capturing the enchantment of the Paris flea market since 2000, connecting individuals looking for the most beautiful things on the planet with highly wanted merchants and producers in vintage, antique, and modern furniture, home décor, art, fine jewelry, watches, and fashion. You can find great Art Deco pieces on this website but be warned: their prices usually come with a hefty price tag.
Art Deco Books
Want to read more about the history of the Art Deco movement? Check out these books: