Art Deco design came into vogue during the “Golden Age Twenties” (the “Roaring Twenties” in the U.S.). Western Europeans and Americans wanted to cast off the pall of World War I and celebrate the promise of the “war to end all wars,” technological advances, prosperity and personal freedoms, especially for women. Art Deco decorative arts and architecture embodied the exuberance, glamour and optimism, and they reflected the luxurious yet simple shapes found in sleek ocean liners, streamlined trains and soaring planes. But Art Deco continued to flourish in the 1930s despite great economic and social upheavals.
A time of rapid technological advances, inventions and achievements. A time of economic uncertainties and wide-spread social issues that include wealth disparity, unemployment, homelessness and lawlessness. Sound familiar? The period of time that followed World War I describes our society today. I’m not saying that’s the reason why trends are returning to Art Deco. It is, after all, the most beloved of all interior designs. The decades have not diminished its jubilance and its edginess, and it can’t hurt to “party like it’s the 1920s” in our living spaces.
Some of the attractions of Art Deco designs involve the contradictions. It is, at once, elegant and functional, sophisticated and flamboyant, so it can be added to an existing décor without overwhelming it or getting upstaged. Use a few pieces stylishly arranged, redo a section of a room or start from scratch—you will undoubtedly bring a cool glamour and flair to your home.
Below are the essential characteristics of Art Deco and ways in which you can use them in interior design today to add a unique visual character to your home.
Stylized Geometric Shapes
Bold shapes trumpet a fearless and confident approach to life—both in the 1920s and today. The sunburst is an iconic Art Deco symbol, whether as a mirror, wall clock or inlaid into the wooden surface of, say, a coffee table. Other shapes include classic geometric and symmetrical designs, Grecian key and chevron patterns, fan-shaped mirrors, jagged points and trapezoids.
Use them for floor or wall coverings, for upholstery or for throw pillows and blankets. A neat part of geometric shapes is that, as starkly modern as they were in the 1920s, the motifs originated thousands of years prior in the ancient cultures of Babylon, Egypt and Aztec among others and unearthed during the great excavations of the 1920s.
Bold Colors and Contrasts
Art Deco design is not for the faint of heart. Certainly its color palettes are not! Vibrant shades of jewel tones (ruby red, emerald green, sapphire blue, hot pink, dark turquoise) grounded with black and white furnishings are leading edge yet playful. Incorporate three or four colors or hues into the room in varying degrees. Two colors are not enough; five colors are too many. Ready for an even more daring interior design? Pick one color and paint the moldings and window frames.
The jewel tones also do well with a black, silver and chrome foundation or a black, white and gold. The latter is stunning accented with pinks or reds.
Art Deco design is typified by a luxuriously glossy finish. Highly polished wood or, even better, lacquered wood has an unparalleled glamour. Personalize the piece of furniture by painting it before applying lacquer. Classic Art Deco calls for black or white, but you can improvise by painting it red!
Glass, including etched or enameled glass, plays a big part in Art Deco interior décor, as in glass-topped gold tables and colored Tiffany-style glass. Stained glass was no longer confined to churches! Mirrors, however, steal the show, especially ornate mirrors that add elegance and warmth to any room and increase the sense of light and space. Better yet, mirrors are a relatively inexpensive way to appeal to your inner flapper!
There are many creative ways that a room can dazzle, for example, with shiny metallic details. Gold (or “gold”), silver or chrome (new to the era so quite the thing to have back then) switch plates or door handles are absolutely opulent. Lots of small touches give a glorious impression when walking into a room.
Don’t forget to look up! Otherwise, you’ll miss an opportunity to “decorate” your ceiling. This is my favorite Art Deco tip. It’ll mesmerize your guests. Add a chandelier to the center of your dining room that radiates the shape of a sunburst across the whole ceiling. It’s a stunning effect.
Opulent Natural Materials
Zebrawood has a golden yellow heartwood with dramatic streaks of darkest brown or black. It, along with ebony, is among the most exotic of Art Deco woods. And it is rare, so it’s quite a coup to have it decorating your home. And don’t forget the light-reflecting properties of lacquered wood.
Wood furniture (or even wood veneer) inlaid with traditional Art Deco geometric or ancient motifs in ivory, brass or mother of pearl is the epitome of luxuriousness. Deluxe materials like marble were used in obvious displays of wealth. There was a lot of “Can you top this” going on!
In the 1920s and for many years thereafter, exotic skins as floor or wall coverings were the rage. No longer. It now puts people into rages to see evidence of such cruelty to animals, particularly endangered species.
Shark, tiger and zebra skins were especially popular. You can have the look without the violence. There are faux animal skins that look like the real deal, but have the added benefits of being hypoallergenic and washable with a non-skid backing.
There’s a fun way to get Art Deco decorating ideas—Art Deco-themed movies! The Great Gatsby (2013), Midnight in Paris (2011), The Artist (2011) and Grand Hotel (1932) are a great way to start.