Decorating in the Art Deco Style

Luxurious Art-Deco entrance hall with a large designer mirror.
Peter_visual / Getty Images

Possibly due to several factors that remind people of the 1920s and 30s, the era of its birth, the Art Deco style is making a fashionable comeback.

The Golden Industrial Age to the Great Depression

Art Deco began as a design movement in the golden industrial age of 1920s but its popularity continued throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s. In fact, because so many Art Deco style buildings went up during this period of economic collapse, the style is sometimes known as Depression Moderne.

Art Deco Embodied Luxury

Despite the fact that the Art Deco style flourished during harsh economic and sociologically striven times, Art Deco embodied luxury. Captivating animals and plants were stylized in architecture and decor. Goldtone, silvers, chromes, and other reflective surfaces such as mirrors were used extravagantly. Rich leathers and inlaid surfaces were used abundantly. The machine age and man were exalted. Stylized and glamorized images of man and technology became popular in print and sculpture.

Stylized Geometric Shapes

As we look back, we can easily see that the Art Deco style is further based on stylized geometric shapes such as stepped forms, chevrons, sunbursts, and curves. (For example, take a peek in the photo at the Chrysler Building in New York City, built during the height of the Art Deco time period.) These shapes were considered quite modern at the time of Art Deco's popularity, though many of these shapes were adapted from ancient Aztec and Egyptian motifs.

Emphasized the Use of Human-Made Materials

Because Art Deco came to flourish during a time of technological advances, it also emphasized the use of human-made materials such as chrome, stainless steel, and plastics through natural materials such as wood were also used. The colors during this period were rich and vibrant to portray Art Deco's glamorous and distinctive style.

Formal and Controlled

Art Deco design is formal and controlled yet holds hands with sophistication while appearing at the same time to be a bit flamboyant. The combination of these seemingly contradictory elements is what makes the Art Deco style so compelling and has helped it endure the passing of time.

The Rebirth of This Popular Decorating Style

Today, the very term “Art Deco” may conjure up romantic images of well-dressed women and gentlemen clinking martini glasses as the sound of a jazz band emanates behind them in a sumptuously decorated ballroom. Perhaps it is this seemingly luxurious yet carefree image that people are drawn to during these tumultuous economic times that has caused us to rebirth this popular decorating style.

Typical Characteristics of an Art Deco Style Space

  • The use of rectilinear and symmetrical forms along with stylized shapes
  • Sharp edges along with bold, accentuated curves
  • Reflective surfaces and the use of mirrors
  • The repetitive use of geometric shapes combined to make stepped designs and patterns
  • Luxurious materials such as uncommon woods, inlays, gold, and chrome
  • Aztec and Egyptian influences including the ziggurat, the sunburst, and the electric bolt
  • Evocative lighting that emits a sophisticated mood
  • Bold colors with sharp contrasts, though black and white and neutrals were also popular
  • A sophisticated, cosmopolitan feel
  • The absence of raw textures—everything was polished, smooth, and tooled to celebrate the machine age
  • Animal skins and patterns used in a sophisticated way
  • Highly stylized patterns taken from plants and animals
  • The celebration of lines
  • "No frills" interiors—no fluff, soft florals, plaids, or lace

Decorator's Note: Art Deco is often confused with the earlier style of Art Nouveau but the two styles are completely different. Art Nouveau does use geometric shapes but Art Nouveau is much more mythical, organic, fluid, and asymmetrical than Art Deco. Colors and patterns are softer with art nouveau. Peggy over at Fauxology has a great article on recognizing the differences in the two styles.