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What is Art Deco Furniture?

By Adam Hill
Updated: May 16, 2024

The decorative style known as Art Deco saw a great degree of popularity in many countries between World War I and World War II. Its popularity was greatest in Europe during the 1920s, and in the United States during the 1930s. It had a remarkable influence on the architecture of the time, as well as on furniture, fine art, clothing, jewelry, and cinema. Art Deco furniture was often reminiscent of architectural lines and curves.

The term “Art Deco” originates from a 1925 exposition of French art at Le Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Many American architects attended this exposition and were influential in shaping the wide influence of the Art Deco movement in the US. Art Deco styles of architecture have been well-preserved in America, especially in major cities. The Chrysler Building and Radio City Music Hall in New York City are two well-known examples of typical Art Deco motifs.

Art Deco furniture is characterized by the use of metals such as stainless steel and aluminum. Lacquer and inlaid wood also feature prominently in this style of furniture. At times, the use of exotic materials such as the skin of sharks and zebras could be found, although the cost of these materials was high enough that they were not seen in the average home or office. Dark, exotic woods were often favored in Art Deco furniture, and many surviving examples show the striking use and combinations of rosewood, ebony, and mahogany. In many cases, the stains used on the wood brought out the darker elements of the grain, giving the finished piece an extraordinary visual texture.

The Art Deco furniture and architecture seen in the U.S. conveyed a sense of strength and optimism at a time when economic depression brought unprecedented hardship to the country. For example, sunburst motifs were ubiquitous, often depicted against a blue background, evoking the image of a rising sun. Many public buildings that featured an Art Deco style were tailored to convey a sense of national pride, with their brightly colored murals and strong sculptures. These seemed to hearken back to the pride of Roman republican government and society.

The popularity of Art Deco saw a marked downturn going into World War II, with the new spirit of self-sacrifice and austerity. However, the distinctive Art Deco style has been echoed by others, since its decline. It experienced a limited resurgence in the 1960s, and then again in the 1980s, accompanied this second time by an interest in graphic design and the sense of nostalgic glamor that Art Deco had come to represent.

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Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Jun 28, 2012

@pleonasm - Well, I wouldn't call all of Art Deco minimalist. It actually has quite an emphasis on optimism and comfort and I think that it strikes a good balance between functionality and beauty.

The thing I really like about Art Deco style furniture though is that it's easy to fit in with other styles. If you have a really pretty Art Nouveau piece, you'd better be prepared to design the whole room around it, because it will command attention. Nothing wrong with that, if that's what you want of course.

An elegant Art Deco piece, though, will blend in with everything else so that it looks like you couldn't possibly have put anything else in there, which is what I like. It's also much easier to care for, usually, since it doesn't have all the intricate little bits and pieces that other styles might have.

It's not always perfect of course. There are some pieces that will always scream "70's TV table!" to me, but generally a good piece of Art Deco furniture is a versatile gem and you'd do well to hang onto it.

By pleonasm — On Jun 27, 2012

I'm not a huge fan of Art Deco to be honest. I much preferred Art Nouveau and I almost feel cheated at how quickly it passed through fashion.

I think it was probably because of the war, and that makes sense because Art Nouveau was beautiful and airy, while I've always found Art Deco to be quite square and practical looking. I guess that's the kind of shape that would give comfort during war time, when there didn't seem to be much room for more fanciful designs.

I just think it's unfortunate that it's had much more of a lasting effect on modern design, because I don't think the most minimal design possible is always the way to go.

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