The Enduring Appeal of Art Deco - Why does Art Deco Furniture appeal a century after it's birth
Art Deco remains one of the most popular styles of vintage furniture on the marketplace for collectors and people searching for an intriguing centrepiece for their home.
What is Art Deco?
Art Deco design dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, sprouting from the Art Nouveau movement of the late 19th and early 20th Century, and becoming the predominant style of the era. The name Art Deco comes from a French expression meaning decorative art but wasn’t coined to describe the era’s style until the 1960s.
Easily recognisable by precise and bold geometric shapes and vibrant colours, Art Deco design was used readily in architecture, fashion, transport, furniture design and household objects, such as lights and lampstands. Art Deco brings to mind the roaring 20s, the era of prohibition and speakeasies, Jazz in Paris and Berlin cabaret nightclubs before the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression of the early 1930s. As well as Art Nouveau, Art Deco bears similarities to Modernism and Bauhaus but remains enough unique features to be easily distinguishable from other period pieces.
Characteristics of Art Deco Furniture
Art Deco furniture is crafted from exotic woods, such as ebony, zebrawood and rosewood, with inlays of other types of wood and then finished with Japanese lacquer to provide a smooth, glossy look and feel. Decorative embellishments are added with geometric designs such as starbursts, sunshine rays, zigzags and straight-edged floral patterns. In addition, inlays using ivory or mother of pearl were often added to provide a further flourish to sideboards, dressers and dining tables.
Animal hides, stainless steel, serpent skin upholstery and veneered or lacquered wood are features of Art Deco era seating, particularly lounge and armchairs.
Most Art Deco furniture pieces were not generally designed with mass production; however, stylistically, the movement celebrates machine production, simplicity, modernity, geometry and symmetry. One of the guiding principles behind the Art Deco movement was that the practical use of the piece should not replace its elegance and beauty. This was one of the reasons why expensive and precious materials such as gold, ivory and crystal were so widely used.
Art Deco Objects
The Art Deco movement was as prevalent in functional household objects as in the era’s furniture. For example, Bakelite became the first synthetic plastic and gained popularity during the 1920s and 30s as the primary material in the production of Bakelite radios. The use of mass-produced synthetic plastics did not suddenly mean compromising style. Bakelite radios remain highly collectable for people desiring a genuine piece of Gatsby-era Americana, with the snakeskin patterns, geometric patterns, lines and symmetry all providing the basis of design for the radios.
As with the furniture, although the use of Bakelite meant that it was highly durable, heat resistant and not prone to scratching, the elegance and beauty of the pieces continued to exceed the functionality. The same can be said of timepieces of the Art Deco era, where clock faces are enclosed within stunning, luxurious pieces that catch the eye far more than the need to tell the time might require. Other objects, such as vases, mirrors, lamps and book ends, and non-functional, such as figurines and sculptures, continue to hark back to the bygone era of Art Deco wealth, luxury and indulgence.
Art Deco also tips into tableware with crystalline wine and cognac decanters mixed with elegant glassware and crockery that incorporates the best of the geometric patterning of the period, often in gold or silver leaf.
The Enduring Appeal of Art Deco
So, why does Art Deco continue to appeal 100 years on? For some, it’s the representation of a simpler, more modern, chicer and more civilised age in which people were more able to live in the moment. Representations of the period in literature and film, in which everyone was dancing the Charleston in mirror-lined ballrooms, and drinking highballs in highly sequined outfits, have proven seductive to many.
In addition, Art Deco furniture has an unrivalled ability to complement furnishings from other eras. It rests easily alongside older and modernist pieces of the later 20th Century. The style provides an eye-catching centrepiece in a minimalist environment and busier, more maximalist rooms. In short, it is easy to mix and match with other styles without compromising the impact. This increases popularity because it bridges the gap between older, more traditional designs and later 20th Century pieces.
The fusion of old-world and post-World War I chaos and disorder was reflective of the period as the entire world was transitioning, overcoming the devastating conflict and shifting economic landscape in Europe and America. With that in mind, some feel that Art Deco is a style that comes back into fashion after a period of change, uncertainty and chaos because it provides reassurance, familiarity and a promise of better times ahead.
The Value of Art Deco
Although young, by comparison to many eras of vintage and antique furnishings, many original Art Deco pieces are expensive and retain their value well. This is because the pieces are well crafted and constructed using solid and durable materials which do not quickly tarnish, meaning that everything on the market is likely to be in excellent condition. In addition, this quality implies that any piece can be fully utilised. It doesn’t need to remain purely for show.
Any Art Deco chair can be used to sit back and relax with a book. A complete dining set of tables and chairs will be able to be used every day, rather than just for special occasions. The sturdiness of dressers, chests of drawers, and cabinets can be used daily and add a touch of panache to a room.
It’s not impossible to find Bakelite radios in complete working order or Art Deco clocks. And while there are many other furnishings and objects from the period that are less functional, the depreciation on them is very low due to the high-quality craftsmanship, the versatility of Art Deco to work with other period pieces and the constant demand for items from the 1920s and 1930s.
Finally, using and re-using Art Deco pieces significantly reduces one’s carbon footprint. It reduces the reliance on new furniture, much of which is sourced from unsustainable resources such as plastics, and the level of transportation required to ship new furniture across the globe. So, as well as providing value for money, looking at Art Deco pieces for your home also provides value for the environment.