Art Deco is a striking and versatile style that continues to influence architecture, design and art around the world.

In contemporary design, Art Deco is adored for its vintage yet contemporary feel which lends itself to both modern and traditional design schemes. An Art Deco design scheme can incorporate the style in subtle ways such as through Art Deco furniture pieces and art. Alternatively, Art Deco principles can be woven into every aspect of the environment encompassing the architecture, fitted furniture, soft furnishings and accessories.

In this article, we delve into the origins of the Art Deco design style and its iconic features. Our Designers share their curation of outstanding examples of art deco design to inspire how you can authentically incorporate the style into your own home.

THE ORIGINS OF ART DECO STYLE

Art Deco, derived from the word Arts Decoratifs, is the name given to a visual style that was born in Europe prior to World War I. The origins of the Art Deco movement date back to the late 19th century. In 1875, designers of furniture, textiles and other objects – who were previously known simply as artisans – were given a new name, arts décoratifs. This new term gave these designers an official status and helped to raise the profile of the decorative arts. In 1901, the Société des artistes décorateurs (Society of Decorative Artists) or SAD, was founded and decorative artists received the same rights of authorship as sculptors and painters.

Throughout the next decade, the decorative arts movement grew. The first international design exhibition devoted solely to decorative arts took place in Turin in 1902, Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Decorativa Moderna. The yearly salons of the Sociéte des artistes français and the Salon d’Automne introduced decorative arts sections and several new magazines emerged in Pairs devoted solely to the decorative arts.

In 1911, the SAD proposed a new major international exposition of decorative arts would take place in 1912. However, the exhibition was postponed partly due to the war until 1925 when it launched by the name International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts. The exhibition did not permit old styles, and only new works could be exhibited, which created the setting for design creativity and innovation. It was at this exhibition that emerging artists and designers displayed a new, modern style featuring geometric shapes, sleek décor and multi-level structures that would become known as ‘Deco’. This style was disruptive and showcased a design direction, unlike one that had been seen before. 

Illustrations for the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts. Image courtesy of Smithsonian.

This new style and its principles differed from the whimsical, asymmetrical lines and organic shapes of the Art Nouveau movement, as designers experimented with new ways to interpret traditional styles and shapes. Symmetry, geometric shapes, bold patterns and sharp angles became iconic features of the style and gave birth to a new and exciting design language.

Although Art Deco designs and objects were usually products of fine craftsmanship rather than mass-production, the style captured an admiration for the inherent qualities of symmetry, repetition and simplicity attributed to machine-made objects. The intention of the Art Deco movement was to symbolise wealth and sophistication through a sleek and anti-traditional elegance.

Art Deco Magazine Vogue Cover June 1927
AN ART DECO COVER OF VOGUE MAGAZINE FROM THE HEIGHT OF THE ART DECO MOVEMENT IN 1927

ICONIC FEATURES OF ART DECO DESIGN

As with all design movements, we can see Art Deco as a response to styles that predated it. Influences from Art Nouveau, Bauhaus and Cubism are present in Art Deco design, as well as Egyptian, American Indian and Classical art.

In contrast to the organic and fluid shapes of Art Nouveau, Art Deco designs favour linearity, featuring geometric shapes, stepped details and radiating forms such as sunbursts. These mathematical geometric shapes took influence from Greco-Roman Classicism, Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Aztec Mexico and Babylon.

Below we highlight the most recognisable Art Deco design features, each of which can be incorporated into an interior scheme through architectural details, furniture design, interior design and art.

Angular Forms

Structured lines and shapes with an emphasis on the vertical orientation.

Geometric Ornament

Trapezoidal, triangular and zigzag forms.

Art Deco Wallpaper Feather Fan Cole & Son

Geometric Patterns

Repeating geometric patterns such as fans, chevrons and sunbursts.

Stepped Details

Replication of trapezoidal and geometric shapes combined with stepping adds depth and dimension.

Mixed Materials

Unusual variations and combinations of traditional and modern materials. Early Deco designs feature typically expensive materials such as silver, ivory, jade, crystal and lacquer and horn, along with a variety of mirror, coloured or moulded glass.

Art Deco Design Motifs Rockefeller Entrance Sculpture

Stylised Representational Forms

Motifs including nude female figures, foliage, sunrays are characteristic of the style.

ART DECO ARCHITECTURE

The influence of the Art Deco style was present in a variety of industries including fashion, furniture design, art and transportation. However, the movement is most recognised for its influence in architecture and American buildings built during the 20s and 30s are some of the most recognised monuments of the style.

The Art Deco movement brought a contemporary glamour to buildings as the intricate designs, often wrapped in gold, were much admired. Art Deco features and motifs were present in both the exterior and interior of buildings, creating a prominent and cohesive style.

Architecture offers a wealth of design inspiration for any interior project, and this is particularly true for Art Deco-inspired design schemes. Below, we share some of the most iconic examples of art deco architecture from across the globe.

The Chrysler Building, New York

The Hoover Building, Perivale, London

The Fox Theatre, Spokane

Eastern Columbia Building, Los Angeles

McAlpin Hotel, Miami

Teatro Eden, Lisbon

Rockefeller Center, New York

Empire State Building

ART DECO INTERIORS

Traditionally, Art Deco schemes feature glossy and reflective finishes such as mirror, glass and metal as well as polished or lacquered wood.

Mirrored panels and details reflect light and epitomise the glamour and opulence of the Art Deco style. Integrating a mirrored wall panel or feature panel within the fitted furniture for a kitchen, bedroom or living area, infuses Art Deco influence into the fabric of a building itself. Adorning a mirrored feature with geometric or sunburst motifs enhances the luxury Art Deco aesthetic.

Timber that is highly polished or lacquered is quintessentially Art Deco. For a classic interpretation, furniture is lacquered in black or white, while deep or pastel toned lacquer adds a contemporary twist to create a personal rendition of the style.

Art Deco interiors incorporate metallic accents and details with a variety of metal finishes such as chrome, brass and silver. Naturally, lighting, handles and accessories can furnish a room with Art Deco style. However, applying metal finishes to fitted furniture and interior joinery integrates the Art Deco principles into the surrounding space and architecture. The application of metal inlays can create custom kitchens and fitted furniture that embody the Art Deco style, whether by framing door details or the application of geometric patterns.

The Art Deco style offers a tremendous amount of versatility, particularly when it comes to colour scheme. The iconic features of Art Deco, such as the geometric forms, patterns and mixed materials can be curated for all manner of colour palettes, whether dark and dramatic, light and neutral or vibrant and colourful.

Below, we share a selection of Art Deco interiors from famous bars and hotels on our doorstep in London. From authentic Art Deco interiors to modern reimaginings, a visit to each of these venues offers an abundance of inspiration for any Art Deco interior project.

Claridges, London

The Beaumont, London

Image courtesy of Beaumont.

The Savoy, London

Image courtesy of The Savoy.

The Waldorf Astoria, New York

Image courtesy of Waldorf Astoria.

Sketch Bar, London

The Gallery at Sketch London. Image courtesy of Sketch.

The Connaught, London

The Connaught Bar at the Connaught Hotel, London. Image courtesy of Connaught.

Mondrian Hotel, London

Image courtesy of The Telegraph.

Brasserie Zedel, London

The Bar Americain at Brasserie Ziedel. Image courtesy of Brasserie Ziedel.

At Extreme, we’re passionate about creating spaces with an authentic sense of style that transcends trends. To learn how we can help you with your project, contact a designer today.

Image courtesy: Hoover Building by Dezeen / Chrysler Building by William Wachter on Unsplash / Feather Fan Wallpaper by Cole & Son / Chrysler Building by Joseph Sohm Shutterstock.com / Hoover Building by Ethan Doyle White via Wikimedia Commons / Hoover Building by Davidhc via Wikimedia Commons / Hoover Building interior by Dezeen / Hoover Building by Living Etc. / Fox Theatre by Young Kwak / Eastern Columbia Building by theeastsideagent.com / McAlpin Hotel by The Guardian / Teatro Eden by The Guardian / Rockefeller Centre by NY Times