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Art Deco - The Modern Style

Deco, popular originally in the 1920s and 30s, took its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, an exhibition held in Paris in 1925. There the style was first seen in the work of French designers who had been in experimenting and refining it for some years. Its origins are rooted in a reaction to the flowing motifs and fussiness of Art Nouveau with its emphasis on individual craftman made pieces. After the First World War people wanted a modern, functional style for their furniture, jewellery and decorative objects. More positively, it was influenced by the streamlined designs of ocean liners and industrial machinery. The Tutankamun Exhibition, held in Paris in 1922, also had an impact and there was a cross-fertilisation of ideas between architects and designers of costumes, stage and ballet sets, jewellery, furniture, ceramics and glass.

Art Deco Ocean Liner, Have a Wonderful Cruise Art Deco Ocean Liner, Have a Wonderful Cruise
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Many of the Art Deco designers rejected traditional materials for their work and chose instead to work with more unusual materials like ebony, steel, marble and rare and expensive types of wood. Their designs were geometric with clean unfussy lines. Art Deco was seen in many different areas like architecture, furniture, pottery, glass and jewellery.

Art Deco furniture was made from rare woods and veneers to the highest possible standards and so was affordable only by the wealthy. There was much use of ebony, increasingly rare even as early as the 1920s, so often it was used as veneers. Lacquering was also used extensively on furniture of the period as was parchment, sharkskin and snakeskin, all used for decorative effect. Other unusual materials used for furniture included forged iron and chrome-plated steel. Furniture made of steel, whilst exemplifying the modernist spirit of Art Deco, also brought down the cost so making it more affordable for the middle classes.

One of the most famous furniture designers of the Art Deco period was Jacques-Emile Ruhlman, whose company, Ruhlman and Laurent, was to become one of the most famous interior design companies in France. He held his first exhibition in 1913 at the Salon d'Automne where he achieved a name for luxurious furniture of great style. After the war he continued to refine his designs and his company enjoyed a reputation for skilled crafts people and excellence in design and manufacture. His furniture is distinguished by its ideal proportions and the delicate tapering legs of his smaller pieces. Some pieces were so elegantly and expertly made, with joints so well-covered, they appeared to have been made from a one piece of wood.

British furniture designers of the period, like Heal and Son and Gordon Russel, had their own less extravagant interpretation of Art Deco more suited to the British market. They used more familiar woods like limed oak, walnut and chestnut rather than the exotic woods seen in French design. Emphasis was on functionality and using decoration to enhance the natural beauty of the wood.




Copyright © 2001 Carol Fisher

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