Art Deco Style
Art Deco interior design style, also called style moderne, takes its name from the exhibition held in Paris in 1925, L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, but it has its roots in the early reaction against the “spaghetti” style of Art Nouveau. It was already well developed before the First World War but little progress was made from 1914 until after 1920.
Art Deco was characterised by a taste for solid rectilinear shapes, smooth lines, streamlined forms, and a revival of interest in the classicism of the late 18th century. It was influenced by contemporary art movements such as the Fauves, allied to the Ballets Russes, with their use of bold colour, and the Cubists with their interest in primitive art and the geometrical dissection of form. In addition, the style took note of aspects of modern life, particularly machines and transport.
Many Art Deco works were made of chrome, plastics, and other industrial materials. Unlike most other modern styles, which were undecorated, Art Deco used various decorative motifs, notably lightning bolts, wheels, chevrons, fans, sunrays, circles, pyramids and waterfalls.
It was a luxury style employing rich and rare materials such as ebony, shagreen, ivory and exotic woods as well as labour intensive techniques like gilding and lacquering. It was practised as high art in the interiors of fashionable France but was largely ignored in Germany, where the work of the Deutsche Werkbund and the Bauhaus led directly to unadorned Modernism. It found little favour in Britain with the exception of some major building projects, but provided a rich source of ideas for mass production for the popular market, particularly in designs for ceramics and textiles.
Style-conscious homes of the 1920s often had exotic Eastern influences or the distinctive look of Art Deco. Some of these designs were inspired by Greek or Egyptian forms and colours. The Egyptian influence followed the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. Surface decoration was one of the main elements of the style, and wood, metal, motifs and decorative objects were also important. Walls were usually pale, in different shades of beige or off-white. Woods were light-coloured, and wallpaper borders were frequently used for definition. The fabrics were often in geometric prints or with period motifs in muted pastel tones, beiges and browns, bright oranges and mauves or lime green. Bedspreads could be in silver satin, with carpets and walls to match, and contrasting curtains. Lighting was dramatic and animal skins were a popular accessory.
In the 1930s came the great slump but, despite the Depression, interior decorators prospered. The look was more subtle than in the 1920s. Plain walls in soft beiges, eau de nil green, silver grey, pale peach, ash pink, powder blue, coral or turquoise were combined with curtain fabrics in a slightly deeper colour - chocolate or tan, deep blues and greens - for emphasis.
There was less pattern in general, though geometrically patterned rugs and textiles by the designer Marion Dorn were particularly fashionable. Abstract paintings were important accessories, light and dark woods were much in use and murals were very popular. Mirror glass was used to give an illusion of space.
Art Deco Style In brief:
- Interiors begin to lose mouldings, cornice, picture rails and have a streamlined effect;
- Compensated by luxurious surfaces and finishes;
- Use of mirror glass, lacquer, straw, vellum, silver and gold papers
- Stippled paint finished much in fashion.
Art Deco Furniture and Fabrics
Art Deco furniture was based on geometric shapes, with rounded corners. Pale woods, chrome, glass and ivory were combined with off-white fabric, leather, animal skins, even sharkskins. Modernist interiors made much use of streamlined built-in furniture with no ornament, and painted white. The tubular steel chair by the architect Marcel Breuer revolutionized furniture everywhere, and Mies van der Rohe’s steel and leather “Barcelona” chair was another modern design classic. Shaped plywood too was being increasingly used.
New techniques, fibres and dyes helped to modernise the textile industry in the early 20th century. The emphasis shifted to easy care and hygiene. Man-made fibres, where natural fibres are regenerated and chemically treated, were introduced, proving resistant to shrinking and creasing with less absorbency than natural cloths. Synthetic fibres, which were completely chemically derived, were developed as a cheaper substitute for natural fibres and, as techniques improved, they offered a much wider choice in price and quality.
Typical Art Deco motifs were bold and flat, the pattern flamboyant and the sharp bursts of colour influenced by the colours of Matisse and the other Fauves, as well as the Ballets Russes. Orange and black, and blue and gold were two of the most popular colour combinations.
Art Deco Furniture and Fabrics in brief:
- In lacquer, blond woods, metal, chromed steel and glass, laminated birch;
- Low sofas and lounging chairs, cantilever chairs in metal;
- The coffee table and cocktail cabinet appear!;
- Fitted furniture in vogue;
- In the 1920s chintzes printed on black backgrounds;
- Alternative fabric colours in the 1920s were blue, Tango (orange), bronze, yellow, fawn, grey, taupe, and cream;
- In the 1930s a fashion for satin, wool, linen, cretonne, stamped velvet, uncut moquette prevails.
An exciting range of colours was associated with the Art Deco style in the 1920s. The neutral-coloured walls were influenced by the Bauhaus, which advocated a minimum of colour. A particular orange, deep blue and black, and red and gold, were all inspired by the Ballets Russes, following the astonishing impact of Diaghilev’s 1910/11 production of Scheherazade, with Léon Baskst’s lavish sets and exotic costumes in a riot of deep, rich colour. Patterned satin cushions with piping and tassels, and deep lampshades with long fringes, were part of the look. The corals, reds, Aztec green, jade green and an off-white usually associated with undyed wool were the influence of the American Indians, while the golds and ochre derived from Ancient Egyptican art.
As the decade progressed, glitter and gloss invaded the home with lacquered furniture and screens, tiled floors, varnished walls and furniture, metallic paints and decorative objects in gold, silver, bronze, steel and chrome. Silver and black were a popular combination in interiors. The painters Van Gogh and Gauguin inspired bright colours and furniture designer Eileen Gray showed screens in lacquered black, red and gold at the 1925 Paris exhibition.
At the end of the 1920s, Art Deco was giving way to Modernism. Accordingly, most fashionable interiors of the 1930s had low-key colour schemes based on neutrals like fawn, off-white, grey, with colour accents such as deep blue, coral or maroon. The lack of colour was offset by texture (from hand-woven fabrics and rugs) and sheen (from mirrors and glass). There was a vogue for monochrome rooms, based around a single colour such as sky blue, willow green, apricot, cyclamen or off-white. All-white rooms were also fashionable in the 1930s.
Art Deco Colours in brief:
- A prevailing theme of whites, creams, beiges and browns, though in the 1920s the fashion was for the vibrant colours of the Ballets Russes;
- Orange and yellow, mauve and silver, red and blue, and lime green.
Windows and Doors
- Windows often casement or picture windows with metal frames;
- Doors flush with veneer of maple walnut, limed oak, and plywood;
- Door and window furniture in chrome, or bronzed metal.
- Polished wood popular;
- Close carpeting - Wilton with geometric and raised Greek key patterns;
- White and beige popular.
- Great innovation in lighting. Most popular were glass bowls and pendant lamps (often by René Lalique);
- Indirect lighting in coving;
- Table lamps of modernist design;
- In some cases the standard lamp with parchment shade trimmed with fringe.
Art Deco Buildings and Museums
Victorian & Albert Museum, The Brighton Museum, The Geffrye Museum, Musée des Arts Décoratifs Paris, The Park Lane Hotel, The Savoy, Claridgees, Daily Express Building, Hoover Building, The De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, The BBC, Peter Jones, Highpoint in Highgate, The Villa Savoye in Poissy, Maison Verre in Paris, The Villa Roche in Paris.
© Adrienne Chinn - London