What Is Art Deco Design? Plus How To Add It to Your Home

Discover the bold, geometric lines and luxurious materials of the Art Deco era.

Lauren Thomann is a business owner, antique dealer, and freelance writer/editor with 16 years of experience and a B.A. in English and Linguistics. She specializes in antiques—mainly Victorian through Mid Century—antique jewelry, old house renovations, and lifestyle and home-related content. Click the link to learn more.
Art Deco poster from the 1930s with a ship and a geometric landscape

Art Deco refers to a design style that originated in the 1920s and 1930s and is characterized by bold geometric shapes, lavish ornamentation, and rich colors. Art Deco design motifs were influenced by various sources, including ancient Egyptian and Aztec art and the work of the Bauhaus School of Design. In this article, we will explore the history of Art Deco, its key characteristics, and some tips for incorporating it into your own home.

History of the Art Deco Movement

Gold and wood Art Deco Dressing Table and Chair by Paul Follot, c. 1919
Art Deco Dressing Table and Chair by Paul Follot, c. 1919. Photo credit: SiefkinDR via Wiki Commons

The Art Deco movement emerged in France in the 1920s as a reaction to the artistic excesses of the Art Nouveau movement. This new style embraced geometric shapes, clean lines, and industrial aesthetics. It was heavily influenced by the Bauhaus School of Design, which emphasized function over form. It also found inspiration in the emerging Art Moderne movement in Europe.

Despite these influences, the Art Deco movement differs from the other overlapping design movements in the following ways:

  • Art Nouveau. The Art Nouveau movement was characterized by elaborate, organic shapes and a focus on nature. In contrast, the Art Deco era embraced geometric shapes, clean lines, and non-organic forms.
  • Bauhaus School. The Art Deco movement was heavily influenced by the Bauhaus school of design, which highlighted simple, geometric shapes. However, while Bauhaus’s design was austere and minimalist, Art Deco style was more ornate and luxurious.
  • Arts and Crafts. The Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction against the industrialization and mass production of the Victorian era. This movement emphasized the use of natural materials, hand-craftsmanship, and simple forms and motifs. While the Art Deco movement shared some of these values, Art Deco design also embraced the machine age and the new technology of the time.
  • Art Moderne. The emerging Art Moderne movement in Europe influenced the Art Deco movement, particularly in its emphasis on modernity and sophistication. However, Art Deco design was more decorative and ornate than the sleek, streamlined aesthetic of Art Moderne.

Art Deco design quickly gained popularity in the United States, where it was embraced by architects and designers who were looking for a more modern aesthetic. This style was particularly popular for commercial buildings, such as movie theaters, department stores, and skyscrapers.

Key Characteristics of the Art Deco Style

Art Deco travel poster by Kingston by Tram from the 1920s
Kingston By Tram Travel Poster, c. 1921

The Art Deco movement was a celebration of modernity and sophistication. Designers made use of the latest technological innovations that heavily influenced the direction of this style.

Here are important features that are found in several Art Deco designs:

  • Bold geometric shapes and clean lines
  • Use of luxurious materials and rich jewel-toned colors
  • Incorporation of simple motifs from ancient civilizations
  • Emphasis on symmetry and balance
  • Use of metallic accents, such as chrome, bronze, and gold
  • Lavish ornamentation and embellishments, such as intricate gilded patterns and carved details

Famous Art Deco Architecture

Interior shot of the ceiling inside the Art Deco building, the Empire State building
Empire State Building, c. 1930

Some of the most famous examples of Art Deco architecture in the United States include the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in New York City, as well as the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and the Historic District in Miami beach.

  • The Empire State Building is an iconic space featuring gleaming brass and marble, as well as geometric patterns and mirrored surfaces.
  • The Chrysler Building is a famous example of Art Deco design, with its distinctive crown of triangular metal ornaments and gleaming stainless steel spire.
  • The Waldorf Astoria Hotel is known for its elegant Art Deco-inspired lobby and sweeping staircases.
  • Miami Beach resorts have brightly colored facades and several geometric patterns. This iconic district is a prime example of the tropical-inspired Art Deco style.

Art Deco Design Tips for Decorating Your Home

Interior shot of the living room and art deco fireplace in the hollyhock house, c. 1922
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, c. 1922. Photo credit: Marvin Rand

During the 1920s and 30s, most Art Deco designs flourished in commercial spaces. However, if you want to incorporate Art Deco style into your home, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1
Use bold, geometric shapes and clean lines.

Choose furniture and decor with angular shapes and geometric patterns to capture the spirit of Art Deco. This could include sofas and chairs with sharp angles, as well as rugs and wallpaper with geometric patterns.

2
Incorporate luxurious materials and rich colors.

The Art Deco movement is known for its glamorous and sophisticated aesthetic, so choose materials and colors that reflect this. Consider using metallic accents, such as chrome and gold, as well as natural stones, like marble and granite.

3
Include ornamentation and embellishments.

Art Deco design is also known for its intricate patterns and decorative details, so don’t be afraid to add a little ornamentation to your space. This could include carved details on furniture, mirrored surfaces, or other decorative elements. Luxe wallpaper is also an option.

4
Mix and match styles.

The Art Deco era was a time of great artistic experimentation, so it’s okay to mix and match styles. For example, you could combine Art Deco furniture with more traditional pieces or incorporate elements of other design movements, such as Art Nouveau, Bauhaus, or Mid-Century Modern.

5
Paint walls with bold, contrasting colors.

In addition to rich, luxurious materials, Art Deco design is also known for its vibrant colors. Consider using bold, contrasting colors to create a lively and dynamic space. For example, you could pair a deep red with a bright yellow or a navy blue with metallic gold.

6
Accessorize with vintage pieces.

To really capture the spirit of the art deco era, consider incorporating some Art Deco antiques into your design. This could include Art Deco-style lighting fixtures, wall sconces, posters, statues, or other decorative items. You can often find these at antique stores or online marketplaces.

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