Our ongoing blog series exploring interior design styles have already covered a lot of ground: We’ve studied Scandinavian décor as well as its American counterpart, modern farmhouse design; we’ve also considered the defining elements of traditional, contemporary, transitional, mid-century modern, and coastal interiors.
Most of these styles share a common, baseline theme of neutrality, meaning they rely on a subtle backdrop of muted hues and serene tones to set the stage for the defining features and characteristics of their unique interior aesthetic.
This time, we’re diving into an interior style that’s decidedly more dramatic: Art deco. Read on to learn about the history and defining elements of the recently revived style that’s making a major comeback in homes across the country.
Art Deco Interior Design 101
A century after it first emerged, art deco interiors are making a comeback. Featuring luxurious materials, sumptuous textures, bold colors, and mesmerizing geometrical silhouettes, art deco is the stylistic glamorization and modernization of interior design, architecture, and art.
Art deco was the dazzling décor that defined the “golden, happy” years between the two world wars — the glitz-centric decade otherwise known as the roaring twenties. Art deco, also called style moderne, made its bold debut at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.
Born in Europe and quickly embraced in the United States, art deco embraces bold, fluid, and symmetrical motifs, patterns, and themes that, taken altogether, symbolized the technological progress that transformed the post-war, 1920s world in various ways, from the transportation, cinema, and fashion industries to architecture, art, and interior design.
Epitomized and immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, art deco’s visionary aesthetic, ultra-modern sleekness, and sumptuous style was shaped by the gradual loosening up culture in general, with increasing emphasis on fun, expression, and excess.
Following the Great Depression, art deco became more streamlined and less opulent. Known as streamlined moderne, this simpler form of art deco endured through the 1930s and into the 1940s; ultimately, it fell out of favor following the second world war, when mid-century modern design emerged.
Elements of Art Deco Design
From its inception, art deco style was all about moving away from the past and paving a new way toward the future, both culturally and aesthetically. It embraced decorative elements (much like the art nouveau design movement that preceded it), but gave those elements a sleek, cosmopolitan twist.
Today, art deco is as modern, streamlined, and functional as ever; it’s also confidently chic, playfully exotic, and never shies away from including a bit of opulent glamor. Defining design elements include:
1. Bold, jewel-toned color palette
Art deco color schemes are striking and bold, starting with rich and sumptuous jewel tones — think bright and deep yellows, reds, blues, greens, pinks, and purples. These lush hues create a comforting backdrop of stand-out walls, window dressings, and upholstered furnishings; use black, white, and high-shine silver and gold to punctuate the tonal theme, and warm creams and beiges to complement and soften it.
2. Geometric motifs and patterns
Art deco style is all about making statements and pushing boundaries, something it beautifully accomplishes through its elegant motifs and patterns: Geometric shapes, angular silhouettes, linear forms, and symmetrical configurations are all characteristic of art deco design.
As the artistic expression of post-war technological progress, art deco embraces flattened and stylized geometric motifs like fans and flowers, fluid abstract patterns like chevron, sunbursts, and sweeping curves, and linear designs like zigzags, jagged lines, and stepped forms.
3. Natural themes and stylized wildlife
Geometric art deco patterns and motifs engender a strong and bold visual aesthetic with no fussiness or romance in sight. Organic symmetry is just as important to the art deco aesthetic, however, and that’s where stylized wildlife décor comes in.
Natural themes and stylized wildlife help balance out and soften the quintessential art deco canvas: Think designs that feature laurels of leaves, branches, and feathers along stylized animal elements like a bird sculpture, a Chinoiserie fish, or a zebra-print rug. Sensuous nude sculptures, sometimes abstract, are another common art deco counterpoint.
4. Opulent materials and textures
Art deco interiors are a sumptuous feast for the visual and tactile senses, mostly because of the upscale, luxurious materials they include. When the style first emerged, it embraced new materials that were suddenly readily available, like steel; it also embraced high-end materials that symbolized wealth — like gold and silver.
In modern art deco interiors, you’ll find upscale upholstery fabrics for seating, window dressings, and custom headboards; think velvet, faux shark skin, and fabrics printed with zebra or tiger patterns. You’ll also find polished wood and lacquered furnishings alongside stainless steel, chrome, mirror, colorful glass, and brass accessories.
Expensive, high-end art deco furnishings may incorporate ebony, zebrawood, and marble.
5. Streamlined furnishings and lighting
Like everything else about streamlined moderne style, art deco furnishings are distinctly grand. Today’s pieces may not be quite as large compared to the furnishings of a century ago, but they’re still the main event of any art deco interior. We’re talking about substantial sideboards made from rare woods, curvaceous sofas with smooth lines, and scalloped side chairs with sumptuous upholstery.
Wooden art deco furnishings often feature inlaid geometric patterns or symmetrical designs; those same shapes and forms are also characteristic of art deco lighting, from wall sconces and pendants to chandeliers and ceiling-mounted fixtures.