Bold, brash and elegant. The Art Deco style encompassed furniture, textiles, ceramics, jewellery, sculpture and architecture.
Originally known as ‘Arts Decoratifs’ after the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriel Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Decorative Arts) held in Paris in 1925, the term Art Deco was not coined until the 1960s.
Although the style lent itself well to interior decoration, architecturally there was a strong crossover with Modernism. This can be seen in the use of clean lines and minimal ornamentation, although married with simplified geometric shapes expressed in the form of zig-zags, chevrons and lightning bolts. An elegant style it became associated with glamour seen in buildings such as, hotels, bars, cinemas and luxury apartments. The colour and boldness of Art Deco also epitomised the lifestyle of the raffish set of socialites known as the ‘Bright Young Things’ depicted in Evelyn Waugh’s novel ‘Vile Bodies’.
In Europe, from the late 1920s the stricter tenets of the Modern Movement espoused by Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius begin to take hold and dominate the architecture. Moreover, the association with luxury and exclusivity became a frequent criticism amongst Modernists. They argued that excellent design should reach everyone and not be the preserve of the rich. Art Deco’s decorative nature was its undoing and the world events of 1939 were in keeping with a new sober reality, the party was over.
What to look for in a Art Deco building:
Explore these galleries from the RIBA Collections illustrating the main features of Art Deco.