Like many movements, Art Deco is one of those genres of designs that encompass everything from architecture to ashtrays. Unlike many movements, however, Art Deco seems to have had trouble with its identity.
Geographically, it has links with the whole world from Europe to Egypt, while politically, it has played architectural host to the two of the most polarised newspapers in the UK, The Daily Express and The Daily Telegraph.
The style has been loved by many, its affordability and quick production making it a popular choice for the masses; and loathed for its crassness, in equal measure. It has been seen both as the epitome of glamour, through the construction of the Chrysler Building in New York, and as an integral part of Hollywood’s ascendency, but has also been snubbed by classic architects and interior designers as too crowd-pleasing or populist.
Art Deco, much like the times from which it emerged, is riddled with contradictions and extremes: the excess of the American Jazz age in the 1920s, but with it Prohibition, followed by the Great Depression just around the corner; Europe being ruled by the affluent upper classes followed by two World Wars, that shook political foundations to their core, with the movement sandwiched uncomfortably in the middle.
Starting in France Art Deco took hold in Continental Europe during the 20s, its uncomplicated lines proving an instant hit. It drew upon classical themes from the Aztecs, Japan and African colonies using up-to-date materials and techniques, to create a sense of modernity.
Today, Art Deco is still with us, and is part of our everyday living – in the buildings we pass on the street, the designs in the clothes we wear, and particularly in our interiors. Its bold geometric symmetry, casting more than a glance at Cubism, teamed with the bright colours of Fauvism, is still a firm favourite with many top interior designers.
Typical motifs are vertical lines and angular details such as the sunburst, used in mirrors or inlaid into the surface of a piece of furniture. In addition, zigzags, chevrons and stepped patterns can be added to an interior in many forms, particularly through flooring to fabulous effect.
Alongside the linear decorations and geometric motifs, materials were often highly polished for mirror-shine finishes. Wood was even taken a step further and given a lacquer finish, with metallic highlights in brass or chrome.
Colour is bold when it comes to Art Deco design. Strong black and cool white are lifted by the glint of chrome or brass, while furniture and furnishings come in an array of bright primary shades.
These designs and finishes very much lend themselves to a cocktail club feel, where each piece has a strong presence and an impactful design – the overall look is bold, without any hint of softness or romance. Gone are the whiplash curves of Art Nouveau, instead, are sleek, streamlined shapes, with symmetry acting as ringmaster.
The fundamental appeal of the Art Deco movement seems to be the fact that its style not only covers everything from furnishings and fabric, but that it referenced so many other eras, uniting past and present, while also looking forward to a modern age.
As Le Corbusier, one of the great exponents of the Art Deco style once said: “To be modern is not a fashion, it is a state. It is necessary to understand history, and he who understands history knows how to find continuity between that which was, that which is, and that which will be.”