Art Deco Fireplace mantel

Style Watch: Art Deco

The term Art Deco got its name from a world wide exposition in Paris in 1925. As a style it was originally seen primarily in theater, like the many Roxy theaters that dotted the urban landscape, high fashion industries and the cinema, retail outlets, and public buildings. (Think the Chrysler and Empire State buildings in the United States and the Marine Building in Vancouver). It was also a style that appealed to owners and designers of luxury hotels and cruise lines. If you get a chance check out any of the books on cruise ships from this era – the interiors are gorgeous!

Art Deco Fireplace mantel
Art Deco Fireplace Mantel. Note the “stepped” design and geometric styling.

Art Deco style was composed of two separate movements: Classic Art Deco which is the first “wave” of the style as described above, and Popular Art Deco.

Classic Art Deco interiors are characterized by having individual, expensive, beautifully made accessories, light fixtures and pieces of furniture. Ruhlmann and Eileen Gray are two designers whose works are seen in museums and elite private homes. As art works in their own right, they are unavailable to the regular public today.

Popular Art Deco however is still available to most of us. The motifs we associate with this style was based on new developments of radio (radio waves), electricity (zigzags), transportation (speed lines, airflow, streamlining), the Aztecs (stepped designs), and skyscrapers. Some pieces of furniture ,such as bookcases, looked like miniature skyscrapers! There was lots of glass and chrome, bright colors and black was used extensively.

Another influence was the art of the time. This included the art of Africa and Pre -Columbian art, Futurism, and Oriental art. And don’t forget music. Modern jazz was king and young people listened to it much to the disapproval of their parents.

Art Deco China Cabinet
Art Deco China Cabinet

Art Deco appealed to mainstream taste during the Depression. It was possible to buy something new in the latest style without spending a lot of money. For this reason, some of the Art Deco furniture that is readily available today is not of great quality.

Do your due diligence and apply the same criteria of quality for this furniture as you would anything else. Check the construction of the piece, and the finish. Thin veneer was used extensively during this period and damaged finishes may be difficult to restore.

After all, regardless of how old a piece of furniture is, cheap is still cheap. When collecting go for the best quality you can afford.