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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! If you want to know how to decorate Art Deco, keep reading!

What is Art Deco? 

Art Deco, sometimes known as just ‘Deco’, is 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! It 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. It 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. 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 a sad reminder of a promised glittering future that never arrived. It was therefore deemed inappropriate and borderline obscene.

In the 1940s, the world started transitioning into modernism, or what we 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. Archaeological findings from that era heavily influenced elements we now know as Art Deco. In particular the tomb of Tutankhamun discovered in 1922, and the artifacts discovered within it.

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 era has two main periods: Traditional French Art Deco and the later US-developed Streamline Moderne style. 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. A lot of people confuse these two styles so I just wanted to make that clarification!

Let’s talk a little more about the two different deco periods!

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.

french art deco graphic art

Something that’s not mentioned often 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

American Art Deco – Streamline Modern

american art deco streamline moderne hotel

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. The French actually called the style ‘paquebot‘, which means ocean liner.

Contrary to the earlier luxury French Deco which prized itself for being exclusive and handcrafted, the Americans mass-produced their products. This made Art Deco broadly accessible and helped contribute to its immense popularity.

Famous American art deco skyscrapers: the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, and Waldorf Astoria Hotel. 
Examples of exquisite Art Deco architecture. Perhaps the easiest way to visually define Art Deco is to look at prominent buildings in New York such as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Rockefeller Center, and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. 

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…

The last time Art Deco had a revival in interiors was in the 1980s. The relative prosperity of the 1980s led to a renewed interest in luxury and glamour, which Art Deco embodied. Also, as with many cultural trends, there’s a cyclical nature to interest in past aesthetics. The 1980s saw a wave of nostalgia for the pre-war era, which helped to fuel interest in Art Deco.

After the wildness of the 80s, people were craving simplicity. There was a distinct shift to minimalism which lasted for decades.

Today, there seems to be a growing desire for luxury, and a departure from the minimalism that has dominated design for the past few decades. There is also the belief that Art Deco’s comeback today comes from a yearning for structure and stability in these uncertain times. The resurgence of Art Deco might be interpreted as a form of escapism; a nostalgic craving for the glamour and hope embodied by this style.

It’s obvious that we are currently facing significant societal wealth disparities, so the re-emergence of the deco trend could also mirror the affluence and opulence of a particular sector of society. Fortunately for those of us who are less affluent, there are many ways to embrace this style without having to spend a fortune. 🙂

Anyways, all of these ideas aside, 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!

How To Decorate with Art deco Interior Design elements

colors Palettes

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. Clashing hues? Even better.

Bold and saturated jewel tones aren’t the only way to use color in today’s form of Art Deco decor. Pastel palettes and more muted and soft colors are often used in today’s re-interpretations of Art Deco.

When you’re trying to decorate 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 silver or chrome accents, but also with warm brass.

Stylized patterns

luxury art deco inspired hotel
LTW Design Works

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.

Patterned flooring

art deco flooring

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 decorate with 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.

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!

Luxurious Materials

Other extravagant elements such as exotic woods, crystal and animal prints are elements that will lend themselves to the Deco interior.

While Art Deco was born in an era of extravagance, its modern revival doesn’t necessarily require sourcing rare or ethically questionable materials. Instead, today’s designers will often cleverly reinterpret luxury, focusing on quality, craftsmanship, and sustainable options.

How to decorate in Art deco style

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.

70s meets art deco style restaurant
Dezeen – a beautiful contemporary interpretation of art deco. Notice the lack of hard edges, paired with warm neutrals, soft materials and the reflective surfaces introduced through the wall mirrors.

Add sculptural decor and furniture

Sculptures and other works of art were abundant throughout the Art Deco period. It’s never a bad idea to introduce a sculptural tchotchke or two! And 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 can really help introduce a gentle softness into a room.

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. 

(don’t get confused with waterfall-style kitchen islands! Although the principal is exactly the same, waterfall kitchen islands tend to have 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:

Decorate Art Deco With The Use Of metallic accents

It’s not Art Deco without the glamorous sparkling decorations and reflective finishes!

Metallics will reflect light back into your space and have 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. These patterns 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.

green contemporary art deco living room
Dear Designer (site defunct)

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 (or your budget!) 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.

geometric lines, brass accents and leather tufting
Atelier I-N-D-J

➡️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


Art Deco Books

Want to read more about the history of the Art Deco movement? Check out these books:


I hope you enjoyed this guide on how to decorate art deco in the 2020s! Don’t forget to pin one of the images above to your inspiration art deco Pinterest board!

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