After nearly 100 years, art deco endures
In design, we often look through the lens of the past to inform our present. And with mid-century modern style so dug in — and no longer just a furnishings trend, thanks largely to millennials — the question is, what’s the next aesthetic to resonate?
Many signs are pointing to art deco. Modern in its heyday in the 1930s, the style crossed a swath of large and small objects for design, from buildings and furniture to everyday objects, even jewelry, with simple shapes dressed by extravagant materials and marked by craftsmanship.
The look is bold, opulent, even flamboyant. Its forms can be shapely or angular. It can be tailored or sexy, lavish and glamorous. And its scale in furnishings doesn’t overpower. We’ve traveled through strong cycles of embracing the style, including in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
And in late ’90s, “Titanic” launched a new wave of love, even though the decor aboard the iconic ship preceded the official birth of art deco by more than a dozen years. Yet the opulence of such “floating palaces” in a more romantic era struck a chord.
But there’s no doubt about its current presence, as characteristic design elements have been sneaking in with patterned stylized and geometric motifs, channeling and fluting.
At the spring High Point, North Carolina, furniture market, a major 45-piece collection was launched at French Heritage, with another significant one at Fine Furniture Design. There’s lighting, wallcovering, tile, rugs, textiles, dinnerware, glassware and serve ware.
A recent exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York celebrated a broad spectrum of the design with The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s. More than 400 works, including furniture, textiles, tableware, fashion, jewelry, paintings, posters, wallcovering and architecture were displayed. Craftsmanship starred in Bakelite radios and exquisite precious jewels from fashion houses like Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier. Touching on the artistry of transplanted European designers, primarily from Austria and Germany, American architecture became an inspirational backdrop, particularly the powerful image of the skyscraper in centerpieces, like the famous Chrysler Building in New York City.
In home furnishings, “Art deco is interesting,” says trend forecaster Michelle Lamb, publisher of The Trend Curve. “It can be decorative, but a lot of it has to do with adding nuance to shape.” During its heyday, “nothing was too small to have design applied, brought down to the scale of a perfume bottle” or a makeup compact, a pair of earrings or a bracelet.
The key, according to Lamb, is to revamp the inspiring elements of tradition in ways that make them approachable.
“Millennials may want something more interesting — newer, fresher — but it will have to be informed by clean lines. And it can’t get too big — not much bigger (in scale) than pieces were in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.”
Los Angeles designer Michael Berman, who designed a wallcovering collection for Fromental with some art deco inspiration, says that its decorative graphic element is especially suited for mid-century modernism “because the furniture is so simple, with linear silhouettes and clean lines. That allows people to get a little more adventurous with some pattern on the wall, on the floors.”
When French Heritage rolled out its Facet collection, it represents an exciting direction for company president Henessy Wayser, who collaborated with designer Michelle Workman for more than 18 months to produce it. Zebrawood, rosewood and oak burl veneers, as well as faux shagreen and fashionable lacquers emphasize the clean lines of the design, and accents of solid brass, copper, brass inlay, nickel and mirror define and add a dressy flourish. Upholstery by Kravet includes velvet, satin and woven jacquard in a palette of midnight blue, fuchsia, winter green, gypsy rose and shades of light and deep purple.
Workman, who grew up in Los Angeles (“which has a ton of AD architecture,” she notes), always has been fond of deco style. But she wasn’t at all interested in replicating line for line, just riffing off of it, “flavoring with an art deco sensibility rather than a straight reproduction. And, of course, a little glam.”
“Deco is a really wonderful transitional style,” says Workman. “It’s still rooted in history, yet completely modern. For millennials, it’s a style they’re not familiar with. To me it’s about the clean lines, geometries. And the materials — exotic woods, beautiful burls, skins, shagreen and parchment.”
Workman had a little fun naming some of the pieces, which range from $500 to $10,000, for cocktails. A small book depicting pieces from the collection includes recipes and brief history of the drinks. One of her favorites: the channel-backed Hanky Panky Chair: “That leg. So thin, but cast in metal. Love its elegance.”
When designer Patrick Aubriot designed a deco collection for Fine Furniture Design, he looked to his roots for a historical connection. His interpretation is subtle, distilled to the essence of pieces in clean, classically inspired, contemporary silhouettes. It features figured anigre veneers in rich, dark Cafe Noir finish, black granite with chiseled coin edges and silver-leaf accents in a bronze patina gilt finish.
Shapes — curves or linear and angular — add to the look, and can be especially accentuated in accessories, such as decanters and soup tureens, and by lighting. Aerin Lauder was inspired by stylized flower forms with the design of a ceiling-mounted pendant light, available in silver or gold. Another elongated AERIN sconce called Eaton for Circa Lighting sparkles; a 14-inch tall, 7 1/2-inch wide jewel-like column style with spiral glasswork accented in gold, and can add a luxurious Deco accent to a wall in a bedroom, living or dining room.
Here’s the thing: Many of the newest deco style pieces are ideally suited for small spaces. Case goods, like bars, are not towering, most topping out at 6 feet tall. Some chairs almost look petite, but sit well, and are comfortable for larger frames.
A new deco collection from Diesel Living with Moroso, introduced at Salone del Mobile in the spring, features small-scale clean-lined upholstery, sitting on faceted mirrored faceted bases. Patrizia Moroso says that the collection represents two different, yet coexisting aspects of certain contemporary trends — “one darker in tone ... with a more aggressive and enigmatic aesthetic, and the other inspired by nature and a visual radiance, with soft and welcoming shapes.”
Another turn was taken by Timothy Oulton, whose signature has come to be brown leathers with hides in a more rustic aesthetic. His Rex console plays on the romanticism and glamor of the 1920s, with its hand-cut crystal prisms that dazzle.
The spirited geometrics and stylized patterns can be complex in a range of colors, and especially powerful in black and white, as in the repetitive fan shapes and diamonds of a new wallcovering called Majestic Gold from the bathware company Devon & Devon. Or a bold fabric pattern in black embroidered on natural linen from Boussac. Or a take on an op-art vibe, in an intricate inlay of bone on the face of a console by Bernhardt.
Geometric patterns, especially in a larger scale and in multiple hues are almost mesmerizing. And in textiles or rugs, they can anchor a space, providing a number of options for pulling together companion colors for accents and art in a room. A good example is a series of wool rugs designed by Zaven for CC Tapis. They recall the colorful artistry of Ukranian-born French painter Sonia Delaunay, whose art and textiles were exhibited in a Paris retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 2015.
“A lot of the motifs take on Aztec and Egyptian forms,” says Michelle Workman. The discovery of King Tutankhaman’s tomb in 1922 ignited an interest that led to stylized panthers, gazelles, garlands and maidens, which have been expressed from the kitschy to the sublime.
The price range for authentic art deco actually waxes and wanes, according to demand at auctions, and you can fetch something decorative for hundreds of dollars. At the high end, originals have hit the $1 million mark. A square extension table in rosewood by French master Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann recently was posted for $100,000 on www.1stdibs.com.
A new piece by Lalique Maison actually features a crystal inlay originally designed by Rene Lalique in 1928 for the Orient Express. It retails for just under $35,000. The ivory ash and crystal Joueur de Pipeau bar speaks fluently in the opulent lexicon of the original movement.
One way to integrate a bit of deco styling is with tabletop or accessories. The Portuguese porcelain company Vista Alegre introduced a handsome range of art deco-inspired designs in porcelain and lead crystal. A tabletop collection called Emerald teams beautiful shades of light and dark greens, richly decorated with matte gold. The company actually used original pieces of the brand to re-create the exuberance of the period.
Vista Alegre’s Jazz cups are all about shape and attitude. Their handle is a triangle, and the bold coral and white with black borders adds to the graphic. The company also features whiskey decanters in a number of shapes and deco-inspired designs.
Also keep an eye out for characteristic deco motifs in textiles, such as bedding and even kitchen towels and pillows.
Between the choice of deco style patterns and modern furniture designs, there’s an appeal to consumers of all ages, especially because pieces can play off mid-century modern, traditional and other contemporary styles.
Lamb says that as millennials seek more mature styles and as more dressed up furnishings, in general, gain momentum, art deco style will benefit. She expects it to stay at the high end through mid-2018, and emerge at more moderate price points for 2019.
“In a sea of plains, pieced woods, the richness of multiple patterns enhances choices,” says Lamb. “ ‘Eclectic’ now is a dated term, and it’s not so much about mixing styles and stripes and values, as it is creating an environment that is unique to you.”