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Art Deco - Design for the Modern Age

Updated on October 3, 2014
An Art Deco radiator cap for a motor car
An Art Deco radiator cap for a motor car | Source

Art Deco - More popular than ever now

Art Deco, popular originally in the 1920s and 30s, took its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, an exhibition held in Paris in 1925.

The style was first seen there in the work of French designers who had been experimenting and refining it for some years.

The fashion for Deco spread throughout the world and examples in architecture can be seen as far apart as the USA, New Zealand, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, France, the UK, Greece, Switzerland and the Netherlands, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand as well as many other places throughout the world.

Not only did Art Deco spread far and wide, it has also endured and now, in the 21st century, is more popular than ever.

The bar in the Art Deco Rex Cinema, Berkhamsted, UK
The bar in the Art Deco Rex Cinema, Berkhamsted, UK | Source

The Beginning of Art Deco

The origins of Art Deco are rooted in a reaction to the flowing motifs and fussiness of Art Nouveau with its emphasis on individual craftsman made pieces.

After the First World War people wanted a modern, functional style for their furniture, jewellery and decorative objects. More positively, it was influenced by industrial machinery and the Tutankamun Exhibition, held in Paris in 1922.

It seemed to be an idea whose time had come. It was adopted by designers working in many different spheres like architecture, stage and ballet sets and costume, jewellery, furniture, ceramics and glass.

The Round Room in the Carlu (formerly Eaton's Seventh Floor) in Toronto, Canada
The Round Room in the Carlu (formerly Eaton's Seventh Floor) in Toronto, Canada | Source
Art Deco Complete: The Definitive Guide to the Decorative Arts of the 1920s and 1930s
Art Deco Complete: The Definitive Guide to the Decorative Arts of the 1920s and 1930s

This book, beautifully and extensively illustrated with 1000+ colour pictures, covers Art Deco in all its forms and styles.


Art Deco - An All-Encompassing Style - Influencing everything from perfume bottles to architecture

Not only did Art Deco become popular around the world, in places as diverse as the UK, USA, India and New Zealand, it also influenced the design of all kinds of household and luxury items.

With Art Deco being so prevalent and widespread, it's hard to learn about it in all its forms and this is why it's useful to have good reference books that take a comprehensive and expert view of the subject.

Czech glass perfume bottle in the classic Art Deco style
Czech glass perfume bottle in the classic Art Deco style | Source

Collecting Art Deco Perfume Bottles - A Very Popular Collectible

Whilst René Lalique is the best-known of the Art Deco glass designers, there were many others, especially those who resurrected the popularity of pressed glass which had suffered a downturn during the early years of the 20th century. The characteristics of Art Deco glass are the geometric shapes, opalescence and the use of lacquer for decoration. The best designs have a free-flowing elegance of form.

Glass perfume bottles are amongst the most popular Art Deco objects for collectors. They are usually affordable and relatively easy to find.

Many people only collect the scent bottles from the Art Deco period or at least in the Art Deco style.

As with all glass, condition is of paramount importance. Avoid buying anything that is chipped or cracked or is missing its stopper. Always check the opening rim and the stopper for chips. It's quite common to find them in this area of a perfume bottle.

Another thing to be aware of is that some modern scent bottles in the Art Deco style are being sold. Look for minute scratches on the bottom of the bottle - this is a sign of wear and at least shows the scent bottle isn't brand new but has stood on a dressing table, and been picked up an put down in the course of being used.

Art Deco Furniture: The French Designers
Art Deco Furniture: The French Designers

This definitive book on Art Deco furniture was written by Alastair Duncan, an auctioneer at Christie's New York for 14 years for Art Deco and Art Nouveau auctions. He is a recognised expert on the style and has guest curated exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institute.


Art Deco Furniture

Art Deco furniture by the best and most fashionable, European designers was made from rare woods and veneers to the highest possible standards and so was affordable only by the wealthy.

There was much use of ebony, increasingly rare even as early as the 1920s, so often it was used as veneers. Lacquering was also used extensively on furniture of the period as was parchment, sharkskin and snakeskin, all used for decorative effect.

Other unusual materials used for furniture included forged iron and chrome-plated steel. Furniture made of steel, whilst exemplifying the modernist spirit of Art Deco, also brought down the cost so making it more affordable for the middle classes.

British furniture designers of the period, like Heal and Son and Gordon Russel, had their own less extravagant interpretation of Art Deco more suited to the British market. They used more familiar woods like limed oak, walnut and chestnut rather than the exotic woods seen in French design. Emphasis was on functionality and using decoration to enhance the natural beauty of the wood.

By the mid to end of the 1920s, the most extravagant furniture became less fashionable and there was more emphasis on streamlined geometric lines with form following functionality. Art Deco furniture has retained its popularity into the 21st century as the photograph below illustrates.

An example of the famous Barcelona Chair designed by Mies van der Rohe.
An example of the famous Barcelona Chair designed by Mies van der Rohe. | Source

Mies van der Rohe - Architect and Furniture Designer

Famous for his often repeated quotation, 'less is more' Mies van der Rohe' practised this in his work in both architecture and furniture design. His furniture retains the hand-finished detail of the most exclusive designs but it is made from steel and its form is simple and elegant with a machine made look.

One of his most famous pieces, the Barcelona Chair first shown in 1929, is still in production today. This chair's basic form is a distorted X with leather upholstered seat and back. It was only mass produced after the Second World War and so the pre-war examples are worth many times more than the later ones.

Furniture by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann

A cabinet by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France
A cabinet by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France | Source

Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann - Leading Art Deco Designer

Ruhlmann, considered by some to be the greatest Art Deco furniture designer, exhibited at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the exhibition in Paris that gave Art Deco its name.

Ruhlmann was born into the furniture making business and began his career in his father's workshop. His furniture making techniques were flawless with joints that could barely be seen and his designs were simple and elegant. He held his first exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1913, by which time his reputation was growing. After the First World War he took over his father's company which was renamed Rulhmann et Laurent. He increased the company's scope by employing crafts people skilled in carpentry, upholstery, mirror grinding, veneering and inlaying.

The company aimed its products at the rich. Its furniture was exclusive and distinguished by its elegance, long tapering legs and simple use of exotic materials. For all its elegance, the furniture was designed to be used and to be comfortable. Form and design served to enhance the use of the furniture.

Art Deco District, Miami Beach

There are Art Deco style areas in many places worldwide, survivors from the height of popularity of the style. Perhaps the most famous of these is in Miami which you can see in this video.

Art Deco: 1910-1939
Art Deco: 1910-1939

Here's another authoritative book on Art Deco around the world and the author puts the fashion in its social context.

A typical Clarice Cliff Art Deco style tea set.
A typical Clarice Cliff Art Deco style tea set. | Source

Art Deco Ceramics

For many people, 1920s and 1930s pottery is synonymous with Art Deco and the names of Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper automatically spring to mind.

Whilst they are the most famous of the pottery designers, there were many others producing stunning work. Amongst these was Frank Lloyd Wright who produced distinctive geometric designs on fine porcelain for the Japanese company, Noritake, and the Viennese company, Goldscheider, whose finely-modelled ceramic statues of women are delightful. Other companies produced innovative and popular designs including Poole Pottery, Carlton and Shelley, all of which are highly collectable today.

An Art Deco statuette by Demetre Chiparus
An Art Deco statuette by Demetre Chiparus | Source

Art Deco Sculpture

Judging by Art Deco statues of the 1920s and 30s, the ideal woman was slim, with very long legs and arms and perfectly proportioned bodies. It's not enough that they are beautiful, they are talented athletes too as they are shown dancing, throwing a javelin, playing tennis or golf; they promise fun as well as beauty. They are usually made from bronze and ivory or a new substance, chryselephantine, made from a combination of the two, often silvered, gilded or painted.

Notable Art Deco Sculptors

* Ferdinand Preiss was one of the most famous of the Art Deco sculptors. Most of his sculptures are made from chryselephantine although there are a few made just from ivory. His figures are finely modelled and detailed and are usually dancers or sportswomen. The most desirable for collectors are those mounted on bases rather than dishes or ashtrays.

* Demetre Chiparus, another influential sculptor of the period, was born in Romania but worked in France. His sculptures were inspired by dancers, particularly those from the Ballet Russe, and his work shows a Central American influence (see picture above right).

* Joseph Lorenzl was one of the most prominent sculptors of the time. He worked in bronze, ivory and chryselephantine and his work was also produced in ceramics by the Goldscheider Company of Vienna (see above). His women were idealized and perfect and are usually nude.

* Clare-Jeanne-Roberte Colinet was notable at the time and is chiefly remembered for her series Dancers of the World. Precisely how many figures were in the series is not known as new ones are still being discovered. Like the other sculptors of the time she worked in ivory, bronze and chryselephantine.

Art Deco - Treasures of The New York Public Library

Learn more about Art Deco designers and their techniques in this video about the superb collections of Art Deco held at the New York Public Library which are open to anyone.

© 2008 Carol Fisher

What do you think of Art Deco?

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    • allaneaglesham lm profile image

      allaneaglesham lm 

      6 years ago

      Very nice lens that captures the beauty of Art Deco. Please take a look at my lens on the Glasgow School of Art which I think will appeal to Art Deco lovers!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Funnily enough, I love Art Deco, but I also love Art Nouveau! BTW, thank you for being nice to my Serqet lens!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I enjoy looking at Art Deco buildings.

    • profile image

      Deadicated LM 

      6 years ago

      I absolutely love it; many say that NYC is the birth place of art deco, I'm sure that's up for debate (of course I may be a little biased). Lol

    • radhanathswamifan profile image


      6 years ago

      Great thought!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      very interesting, love the chairs!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      6 years ago from UK

      Art Deco is so classy and even today some of those pieces look modern. It was a very glamorous era that really seems to have marked a turning point from traditional to more innovative styles of fashion, architecture and interior design. the art of the period is also very appealing.

    • KateHonebrink profile image


      6 years ago

      Art Deco is beautiful to behold and easy to live with. Classic, timeless, elegant - as is your wonderfully written and illustrated article! Kudos on a magnificent job!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      What a beautiful lens! I truly enjoyed it.

    • SophiesWords profile image


      7 years ago

      A well-researched and beautiful lens. Thank you very much!

    • poissonenciel profile image


      7 years ago

      One of my favorite styles. Thank you for this lens

    • Tom Maybrier profile image

      Tom Maybrier 

      7 years ago

      Great lens! I love Art Deco.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love art deco. The lines and clean lines of an industrial era. Some of my metal art incorporates this.

    • cdevries profile image


      7 years ago

      A fun Lens with images I hadn't seen before - thanks!

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 

      7 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      beautiful art deco page. really enjoyed my visit. ~blessed~

    • PhilRC profile image


      7 years ago

      As you cleary show Art Deco encompasses a wide range of subjects, architecture, ceramics, and so on. My particular love is furniture - tables and chairs.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Beautiful lens! I agree with queenofduvetcovers...that chair is amazing.

    • Heatherseesthel profile image


      7 years ago

      Adore it! Will you show more images of Art Deco screens and fireplace grills in your next lens?

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Art deco design is great. blessed by a squid angel.

    • queenofduvetcover profile image


      7 years ago

      Beautiful Lens! I loved the chair pictured on "Art Deco Furniture" !! =)

    • efriedman profile image


      7 years ago

      Wonderful topic - I love art deco, and this is an excellent collection of images and sources. I really enjoyed my one-day-free after a meeting in New York City last year to explore Manhattan for art deco buildings, interiors etc.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Got so carried away looking at this lens, I forgot to tell you I gave you a SquidAngel Blessing!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I inherited my love of Art Deco from my grandfather, it was his era - thankfully, there are still a few Art Deco shops and houses left to see in my town.

    • kerbev profile image

      Kerri Bee 

      8 years ago from Upstate, NY

      Try as I have for the longest time, I can't figure out art deco. I can never tell what is and what isn't deco. Some things I know right off, but others like the statue of that dancing woman just don't seem to fit and I question all I know.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I love Art Deco and I love how you have made this into such a gorgeous lens. Featured here: xx

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am always attracted to Art Deco - perhaps the clean lines. I remember looking at some of this furniture when I was young and liking it even then. Squidangel blessed!

    • Adinantiquejewe profile image


      8 years ago

      I adore Art Deco it's really modern again ;-)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I love Art Deco too! Blessed by the Home Décor angel :-)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The furniture looks great!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wonderful lens. My mom loves art deco too.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very wonderful, in depth article and I learned a lot. Thank you so much!

    • Pixelrage LM profile image

      Pixelrage LM 

      8 years ago

      Huge fan of deco, love this lens!

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 

      8 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      I love art deco. I own some ceramic and glass pieces, but to tell the truth if I had the money all my house furniture would be from that period. Until I do, I just keep watching Hercule Poirot TV serie (with David Suchet) and drool over his apartment!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Oh my, what a beautiful lens to see. great art deco. Love it!

    • Stazjia profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Fisher 

      8 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      @resabi: Wow! I'm seriously impressed that you met Erte. I'm glad you liked the lens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very nice lens -- covers a lot of ground and the pix are great. I'm a fan of Erte; once did a miniature book of his Deco magazine covers and actually got to meet him -- so this is a subject close to my heart. Thumbs etc.!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Of all the Art Deco "stuff", I prefer the one in the buildings of Miami.

    • PaulHassing LM profile image

      Paul Hassing 

      10 years ago

      A fitting tribute to an elegant topic. You really have this Squidoo caper nailed! Keep up the great work! :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I like some of it, but I do agree that it's a very confident style.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Art deco is as Striking and beautiful today, the innovative designs and use of colour and shapes are still awe inspiring

      Good work

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Art Deco is Timeless, it is a beautiful today as it was in the twenty's

      Great lens By the Way

    • Terry Boroff profile image

      Terry Boroff (flipflopnana) 

      10 years ago from FL

      I love Art Deco especially the architecture. Great lens!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Some of the most exciting and playful architecture that I have seen is the Art Deco hotels and homes of Miami Beach. I love the sleek lines and colorful facades.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Love that air vent! 5*

    • religions7 profile image


      10 years ago

      Very well done - great pictures of Art Deco :)

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      10 years ago

      Metropolis is a great movie, but few have heard of it. Smart to include it here. Wonderful lens! 5*****

    • Steve Dizmon profile image

      Steve Dizmon 

      10 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Art Deco is a very interesting art form. My favorite is the architecture. The Art Deco District in Miami is great. Anyone visiting should try to take the "Underworld Tour". 5 Stars.

    • Sheona profile image


      10 years ago

      Love this lens, art deco architecture is so cool: used to love seeing the various Horta villas & buildings when living in Brussels. 5 shining *!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      An excellent resourceful lens! Art deco takes me back to the 70s in Columbus, Ohio and our very artsy friend Bob Flora who was SO into art deco. Fritz Lang's Metropolis looks like a great book. 5*****

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      10 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Lots of good information about Art Deco. I enjoyed reading and loved the photos. 5*

    • Bellezza-Decor profile image


      10 years ago from Canada

      Great lens. I love Art Deco too!5*

    • The Homeopath profile image

      The Homeopath 

      10 years ago

      Americans are probably most familiar with Art Deco through it's Miami revival and the work of Erte. I've always had a passion for Lalique, though. Beautiful lens!


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