Art Deco for the Modern Homemaker

Has there ever been a time that people haven’t loved Art Deco? Since it originated as a decorating style in the 20s its appeal has barely diminished. Today it is more popular than ever and is frequently reproduced.

The Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, in 1925, has always been considered the event that heralded the beginning of Art Deco. It was for a long time understood to have formally petered out in the early 30s. However, the more you explore this fascinating style –or culmination of styles –that has intrigued scholars, designers and collectors alike, the more you realise the true extent of its presence. For instance, some of the finest examples of Art Deco design from Ruhlmann, Iribe and Follot were produced prior to the outbreak of WWI –so around 1913. Examples of the Art Deco style, albeit more modernist examples, were still being produced up until the beginning of World War II in Europe. In Australia, there are examples of Art Deco furniture being produced right through the 1940s, and by the 50s the style had come full circle and was being replicated in France.

Art Deco was not just a period but an attitude, a way of living, a feeling that anything was possible.

The goal of the Exposition was for Paris to show the world that it still reigned supreme in the art of design. In this it most certainly succeeded. The term “Art Deco” was not yet used, but in the years immediately following the Exposition, the art and design shown there was copied around the world, in the skyscrapers of New York, the ocean liners that crossed the Atlantic, and movie theatres around the world. It had a major influence in the design of fashion, jewellery, furniture, glass, metalwork, textiles and other decorative arts. The style spread further through displays in museums and department stores, publications, and the works of designers like the American Donald Deskey, who visited the Paris Exposition. At the same time, it displayed the growing difference between the traditional style moderne, with its expensive materials, fine craftsmanship and lavish decoration, and the modernist movement that wanted to simplify art and architecture.

The term Art Deco was virtually unknown until 1966. Today Art Deco can either be seen with a narrow view or a broad view. The simplest way is to take the broad view and see it as a movement across a time frame with many styles and contradictions occurring within. It is therefore not a single homogenous style but rather encompasses a variety of influences, and is expressed in a variety of applied arts.

Words to describe it include luxury, exoticism, leisure, liberating, daring, elegant.

It was youthful and reflected a new way of life and a new set of values. It was a celebration of industrialisation and mechanisation, of an age of “we can and we will!” It was a hugely energetic movement and reflected a change in mood.

This remains an exciting, broad, complex, fascinating period in our history. The design can be either over-the-top, exuberant and luxurious or lean, clean and functional. There are definitely varying styles that emerge from different countries and different points in time throughout its duration. There is truly something for everyone in this dynamic period.

For fellow lovers of this period:

  • Consider joining The Art Deco and Modernist Society, which now has a Brisbane chapter. This group is part of a greater, worldwide organisation that holds a World Art Deco Congress every two years—a marvellous celebration of all things art deco held in fabulous cities from Shanghai to Buenos Aires.
  • Take a flip through Kimberly Wilson’s publication, Brisbane Art Deco.
  • On your next trip to the UK track down a copy of the Art Deco London Map, a two-sided publication that celebrates the style, specific heritage spots, and London architecture of the period including Senate House and Eltham Palace.