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Ballroom designed in 1927 by mile-Jacques Ruhlmann for the Chambre de Commerce in Paris

Art Deco was a popular international art and design movement from about 1910, when Art Nouveau waned in popularity, into the 1940s. It was seen as elegant, glamorous, functional and modern. The movement was inspired from different styles like Neoclassicism, Biedermeier, Cubism, Art Nouveau and Futurism. It influenced architecture, furniture, design and industrial design as well as paintings, graphic design, fashion and films. Its popularity grew enormously after the Paris world exhibition of 1925, the 'Exposition Internationale des Art Dcoratifs et Industriels Modernes'.

Design mile-Jacques Ruhlmann

Salon furnished with Ruhlmann furnitureThe revived interest in the style started in 1966 when an exhibition was held in Paris called 'Les Annes '25'. The term Art Deco was coined by the British art historian Bevis Hillier in his 1968 book Art Deco of the 1920s and 1930s published by Studio Vista/Dutton Picture books that was the first major work on a hitherto neglected style. In the 1980s magazines like The World of Interiors, House & Garden and Architectural Digest showed many period interiors as well as Art Deco in modern settings. The Victoria & Albert Museum's highly acclaimed exhibition in 2003 explored how Art Deco represented new values and responded to human needs through the conscious celebration of fantasy, fun, glamour and commerce becoming the most popular style of the 20th century.

New types of furniture appear like coffee tables and cocktail cabinets that are products of the new more informal lifestyle. Designers like the Viennese Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956) and Scottish Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) at the turn of the century greatly inspired French Art Deco designers. The grand furniture with exotic dark woods and inlays by French Parisian designers like mile-Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933) is in stark contrast to Finnish designers like Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) who created light, airy interiors with simple blond furniture.

Design Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Dining room in the president's house at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan, USA designed by Eliel SaarinenIn Scandinavia, Britain and the USA it was often the simpler Art Deco furniture that was most popular during this period. Paul Frankl (1886-1958) was one of the most successful designers of Art Deco furniture working in New York. His best-known pieces were his birchwood 'Skyscraper' bookcases and cabinets. At the other end of the spectrum was Terence Robsjohn Gibbings (1905-76) who created blonde furniture described as 'Neoclassical art modern creations'. Today it's the simpler Art Deco that is most popular being preferred to pieces with elaborate inlays. An American writer describing Scandinavian Art Deco wrote: 'proportions are small, comfortable and familiar, light woods muted values of clear colours and a general air of reasonableness have made it a distinct style'.

A leading Finnish designer was Alvar Alto (1898-1976) who exhibited laminated birchwood furniture at Fortnum & Masons in 1933. Much of the best Scandinavian Art Deco furniture was made in Sweden during the 1920s and 1930s and the style continued well into the 1940s (Sweden had the good fortune not to be involved in World War II). Josef Frank (1885-1967) who immigrated to Sweden in 1933 escaping the Nazis created handsome Art Deco furniture for the firm Svenskt Tenn in Stockholm. Design Paul Frankl

Design Terence Robsjohn Gibbings Cark Malmsten (1888-1972) was Sweden's leading Art deco furniture designer who worked closely with NK (Nordiska Kompaniet) creating high quality blonde furniture for major projects such as the Stockholm Town Hall (completed in 1923).

The Swedish designer Axel Einar Hjort(1888-1959) was influenced by the French Art Deco style but changed direction to the Modernist style around 1930. Hjort designed the interior and the furniture for the Swedish Pavilion at the Barcelona Exhibition 1929. This attracted considerable attention and led to a growing international reputation as an innovative and original furniture designer. In 1930 at the Stockholm Exhibition Hjort exhibited twelve room settings from luxurious suites to simpler pinewood furniture.Design Axel Einar Hjort

Design Alvar AltoToday with Minimalism regarded as pass the trend is to have a modern interior with some antiques as a contrast. As the simpler Art Deco furniture goes brilliantly with modern furniture often bringing elegance, glamour and panache to what might otherwise be a bland interior. This has led to resurgence in the popularity of Art Deco.

Rupert Cavendis

ART DECO Furniture and 1940s MODERNISM

Art Deco Cupboard c. 1930-1940Click here to read about the Art Deco style

Updated 23 February 2010


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