Guide to Art Deco Furniture

Art Deco furniture is a style so timelessly chic, it’s hard to believe that a whole century has passed since the Art Deco look first burst onto the design scene. As we enter the new Roaring Twenties, let’s look back at the original 1920s and see why the sleek Art Deco style is still popular among international designers.

The Art Deco Era

Vogue Art Deco Magazine cover 1928

The Art Deco movement became prominent in the 1920s and 1930s, when it was the perfect match for the modern thinking of the Jazz Age. After the ordeals of World War I, many people were looking to a new future, rejecting the fussy and elaborate Victorian and Art Nouveau styles of the early 20th Century. Out with elaborate shapes and ornate carvings, and in with streamlined silhouettes, metallic accents and sleek glossy lacquer surfaces, hallmarks of Art Deco design! 

Amazing new technologies, materials, and methods of communications and transportation informed this brand new aesthetic too.

It was a very exciting time, and the younger generation was swept up in the energy. The “bright young things” had new ideas about society and they were forward-looking in every way.

Women started wearing knee-length skirts and dresses – this was scandalously short at the time! These women, dubbed Flappers, cut their hair short too, drove cars, smoked in public, partied and drank alcohol, and generally enjoyed themselves in ways that had previously been considered quite unladylike! They were the perfect icon for the rebellious, shiny, adventurous Roaring Twenties.

Art Deco Flapper Girl

Art Deco Inspired Design

Art Deco Oval Chest by Jonathan Charles
Art Deco Oval Chest by Jonathan Charles, faux macassar ebony veneer and faux shagreen with nickel handles. Based on original French designs of the 1920s.

Art Deco style was very inspired by the Age of the Machine, as the new technologies of airplanes, automobiles and transatlantic travel on cruise liners captured everyone’s imagination. This ‘streamline moderne’ look of Art Deco was very inspired by visual art, aerodynamic design, and geometric motifs. Furniture and architecture was designed with clean, dynamic, curved, and sweeping lines to create the feeling of speed.

Picture the soaring curves of the Chrysler Building in New York City and you’ll have a good idea of both the optimistic feeling of the early Art Deco era and the distinctive look of Art Deco style.

In the 1930s, more rectilinear lines and geometric shapes, including fragmented looks, were added. These reflected the Cubist influence of artist Pablo Picasso, who revolutionized modern art.

Why is it called Art Deco?

Do you know why it’s called Art Deco? It was named for the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925. This was a showcase of exciting new design trends and the sexy new French Art Deco look made a great impact. In Paris of course the show had a French name: Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. That’s quite a mouthful, so thankfully people picked out the “Arts Décoratifs” piece and then shortened it again to Art Deco, although the term did not become widely used until the 1960s.

Antique 1920 French Art Deco Buffet
Antique French 1920 Art Deco Buffet with mirror back, glass door and marble top, with carved flowers.

The Look of Art Deco Style Furniture

Sleek, chic and not at all meek! That’s the Art Deco look, which relies on well-defined curves and lines. Geometric designs are sharp and streamlined, and applied decoration is also important to the look, including sunbursts, geometric patterns and stylized floral designs. 

Jonathan Charles Opera Art Deco style side table
Jonathan Charles Opera Art Deco style side table

Influences include the design of modern ships, trains, planes and motor cars. Ancient Egyptian, Aztec and Central American art also creeps in, while ancient Greek designs emerge in Greco Deco.

The streamlined silhouette of Art Deco style furniture is simple, but when emphasized by the use of glossy and shiny materials it looks glamorous and opulent. With the unfussy shapes and lack of ornate carvings, all the luxury comes from the materials and finishes. For example, you will often see a gorgeous slab of marble topping a sideboard, buffet, nightstand or table or Art Deco pieces made from an exotic wood like macassar ebony.

Woods are dark to add to the sense of substance and exotic woods are beautifully grained to give a surface decorative effect. Gleaming mirror and glass gave a reflective and modern feel too. Chrome finishes and marble top buffets and sideboards are typical of the era. In Art Deco land, it’s always time to shine up your chrome cocktail shaker and start the party.

Brentwood Art Deco style bar cart
Brentwood Art Deco style bar cart

Early Art Deco furniture designers used colors that were quite muted, including pastel pinks and greens, contrasted with black. But after the 1929 stock market crash in the United States, brighter colors were used for mass producing Art Deco home decor, to cheer everyone up. The popular Fiestaware dishes are a typical example with their bold yellows, reds, oranges, greens and blues. Famous Art Deco furniture designers include Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Jules LeLeu.

Typical Art Deco Style Furniture Features

  • Inspired by the architecture of the time, a standard art deco piece features Curvilinear shapes, think sweeping curves, and rectilinear shapes, with straight lines set at angles.
  • The look avoids fussy curlicues and ornate silhouettes. It’s all about the clean lines to create a bold profile.
  • Geometric shapes and patterns, zigzags, trapezoids, chevron, nautical portholes and sunburst patterns.
  • Applied decoration is important. Motifs include female figures, and stylized flowers and animals such as gazelles and birds.
  • Glossy, smooth materials create reflective surfaces, including marble, glass, mirror, and lacquer finishes.
  • Polished metals were also important for the reflective look, including nickel, aluminum, stainless steel, brass, gold and especially chrome.
  • Dark and exotic woods created a sense of substance and luxury, often with beautiful grains to create surface pattern. Popular woods include rosewood, walnut, teak, maple, macassar ebony and zebra wood.
  • New man-made materials included Bakelite, plastics and other composites which were considered the bees’ knees at the time! 
  • Neutrals are chic, while pale pastel colors including pink and green, are accented with black.
  • Upholstery is typically a solid color. If pattern is involved, it might be a geometric or an animal print.
  • Velvet and leather are popular options for upholstery.
  • Shagreen and leather look combined with wood and chrome.

We love the Art Deco period and our renovated 1920s vintage bungalow dates to this era. The streamlined style is a kind of interior design royalty, eternally popular because it is so striking to look at and easy to live with. It works in many types of space to create an upscale and sophisticated feel that balances retro appeal with contemporary tastes. For example, the updated “streamline moderne” Art Deco look in the Architectural Digest photo above checks all the boxes for a home today.

Whether you are looking for original antique Art Deco furniture or high-quality new Art Deco inspired pieces, Greg and I hope you have enjoyed our guide to Art Deco style furniture and that you will check out our other blog posts aboutArt Deco interior design.

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Aimee owns EuroLuxHome.com with her husband and best friend, Greg. Aimee sources amazing antique furniture, vintage lighting, & high-quality reproduction furniture to help her customers decorate their homes in a unique way. She loves her 9 (you read that right) fuzzy children and is renovating a 1920s bungalow in South Carolina. Find us on Facebook or you can sign up here to receive this blog in your inbox.

What is the Art Deco Style of Antiques?

As an antiques dealer, I am often asked how I determine the approximate age of an antique or vintage item. While the true answer to that question is from the experience gained through many years of directly handling antique and vintage items, one aspect of any determination of age is the aesthetic style or design of the item in question. And to this end, the Art Deco style of antiques is one of the easiest styles to recognize. Art Deco furniture is a surefire way to make a mid-century statement in your living room or dining room. Featuring quality inlays fit for the Great Gatsby, this style brings a 20th century glam to your home.

Prior to World War I, the Art Nouveau style reigned the aesthetic world from 1890 to 1914, with an emphasis on lavish, free-flowing designs, which focused on organic motifs. However, by the time World War I ended in 1918, people around the world had experienced a sobering loss of innocence. It profoundly affected our global consciousness, and which, of course, was reflected in the art and design of the 1920s and 1930s. The craftsmanship of the Art Deco style created pieces that make today’s interior designers blush. Pieces from the Art Deco period include credenzas, console tables, bookcases, coffee tables, sideboards, dining tables, and more! For your seating needs, maybe an Art Deco sofa or set of Art Deco chairs is what you need. All of these pieces can bring a retro / mid-century modern style to your home. 

Consumers were no longer interested in the elaborate carvings and extravagant nature of Victorian and Revival design styles after WWI, but instead demanded a new modern style based on simplicity and a streamlined design, such as the Set of 6 Antique Art Deco Dining Chairs above. At the same time, home decor consumers were fascinated by new technologies that were recently introduced to the world: the radio, the television, the automobile, the airplane, and architectural wonders known skyscrapers, such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in New York City.

Ever wonder how the name of this modern, streamlined aesthetic originated? It all began at The International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art (Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes) that was held in Paris in May of 1925 to showcase the new, modern, and functional design of France. Forty three years later in 1968, a museum exhibition was held of many pieces from the 1925 Paris Exposition, and that is when the term Art Deco was first used to describe this exuberant style, firmly rooted in the promise of the future.

Early Art Deco style of the 1920s uses dynamic, sweeping curves, which give the feeling of velocity and speed, and the aerodynamic design of airplanes and automobiles. The Art Deco style at its heart is the celebration of the Age of Machines, of the optimism of spirit that announced the future had already arrived, and it had been carried on the wings of technology.

This disconnection with the past was also expressed by the Flappers, young women who rebelled against societal norms, in the Roaring Twenties. These women shocked society by taking off their girdles, cutting their hair short, and then smoking, drinking, and dancing all night long in the Jazz clubs. This radical break in tradition required a bold, new, and dramatic style, and Art Deco design was recognized as the “bee’s knees” and the “cat’s pyjamas.”

As the Art Deco style progressed through the 1930s, emphasis shifted away from sweeping curves, switching instead to a focus on rectilinear lines and geometric shapes. These geometric shapes were often fractionated, reflecting the Cubist influence of the contemporary artist, Pablo Picasso.

Key attributes of the Art Deco style are the use of geometric shapes, zigzags, trapezoids, chevron and starburst patterns, as well as the stylized use of flowers and animals such as gazelles and birds. The Antique Art Deco Buffet and the Antique Art Deco Vanity above show the focus on a rectilinear design in combination with stylized flowers, as does the Antique Art Deco Chandelier below.  Notice the sunburst design combined with stylized lettering on the Antique Art Deco Crucifix below.

A dramatic and bold color palette was favored in Art Deco design.  Bright yellow, red, orange, green, and blue were used abundantly, especially in the joyful dishware line called Fiestaware in the United States.

After the stock market crash of 1929 when unemployment reached 25% in the US, inexpensive Art Deco products in cheery colors were still in demand as they helped boost sagging spirits, while the focus on technology and the future promised better things to come.

Art Deco designs took center stage at The World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933, and again in 1939 in New York City. The most prominent architects of the Art Deco era include the streamlined designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and the father of the steel and glass Bauhaus movement, Walter Gropius. In furniture design, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Jules LeLeu ruled the day, while outstanding glassware was designed by Rene Lalique, whose style was inexpensively reproduced and later became known as Depression Glass.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the vibrant Art Deco style of antiques, and that you agree it is quite easy to recognize.

Thanks for stopping by the EuroLux Antiques blog!

Aimee

 Aimee owns EuroLuxHome.com with her best friend, Greg.  Aimee sources amazing antique furniture, vintage lighting, & high-quality reproduction furniture to help her customers decorate their homes in a unique way.  She loves her 8 (you read that right) fuzzy children and is renovating a 1920s bungalow in South Carolina.  Connect with or sign up to receive this blog in your inbox!

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