Considered by many to be the most famous era of western design in the 20th century, Art Deco brought with it an entirely new approach to visual aesthetics and the art world itself. Coinciding with a massive sociocultural shift and a growing sense of generational friction, Art Deco made an unbelievable impact during its time. Thankfully, so much of the pieces created during the Art Deco period have been preserved both publicly and privately, meaning that you can experience it with your own two eyes and even have the chance to collect your own pieces as well.
Art Deco Design
Unlike some ostentatious design eras or the natural-influenced Art Nouveau period that preceded it, Art Deco isn't as intuitively picked out by the untrained eye in the wild. Although, once you know the telltale markers of an Art Deco piece, you'll be able to spot one from a mile away. Thus, when it comes to the Art Deco era, there are a couple of overarching themes and visual cues you can look for to authenticate the item.
The Art Deco period is well known for its use of geometric motifs and shapes. These geometric motifs are often the ones that people can most readily recognize as belonging to the period (think every roaring twenties party you've ever attended). Shapes like sunbursts, fans, shells, triangles, and chevrons can be indicative of an Art Deco piece.
Similarly, Art Deco design also loved broad sweeping curves with elongated lines and gentle slopes. You can especially see this reflected in sculptures of both people and animals as their bodies have been contorted into these exaggeratedly, sleek and curved shapes.
The Brighter, the Better
In terms of apparel, accessories, and delicate aspects of interior design (lighting, dinnerware, and so on), the brighter, the better for the Art Deco period. There's a reason platinum and chrome are synonymous with that time.
Both interior design and architecture embody this sense of layering in their constructions. Pieces were broken down into smaller and smaller sections until they'd reflect depth and symmetry back to the viewer.
Creatives during this period gravitated towards materials that had a sleek finish, often with some sort of reflectivity. This coincided with their geometric shapes to create a fresh and modern look.
How to Bring Art Deco Home
Incredibly, Art Deco is a highly preserved period of design meaning that there are tons and tons of decorative pieces from the period that have not only survived but survived in such good quality that you can add them to your collection or your home today. Unfortunately, being such a popular period of design does mean that many of the pieces are rather expensive. However, if you keep an eye out for new listings and aggressively search, you should be able to find some great items for an affordable price. Some places for you to start your searching include:
- Online auctions - Online auction houses like Everything But The House and 1stdibs have a great selection of antique and vintage items sourced from around the United States that you can bid on and maybe get for a steal.
- Individual retailers - Sites like Etsy and eBay allow individual retailers to list their own products for you to find; this means that there's a ton of options out there for you to hunt down. The only downside is that these places can often hike up their prices without having the industry knowledge to back it up.
- Social media - Places like Facebook Marketplace are a great option to find local items that people are trying to get rid of quickly and cheaply.
- Estate sales - Estate sales are a top tier option for finding Art Deco objects in the wild and for having the potential to grab them out from under everyone's noses. If you know what you're looking at, you might be able to leave with a piece for what some would consider to be highway robbery.
Investigate All of Your Potential Purchases
Given that Art Deco is incredibly popular, there is a large market for fake antiques. Therefore, you should always be proactive about checking and double-checking the items that you're interested in to make sure that they're genuine pieces. Here are some tips to help you made a smart decision:
- Look for maker's marks - If you can find a signature or a manufacturer's logo, you can use that to corroborate the decade it was made in. Do be on the lookout for fake logos, which sometimes appear more pristine/evenly printed than genuine ones do.
- Check the design elements - If something feels off about the piece, there probably is something wonky about its design that you might not be able to consciously explain but have subconsciously picked up on.
- Investigate other listings - Don't ever take a seller's word for their listing price. Always check for similar items and manufacturers to see if their listings match the original lister's price. It's better to do more research before you buy than to be scammed by a crafty retailer.
- Ask for more information - No retailer should ever be upset with you if you ask for more information/pictures about an item. Of course, this isn't a guarantee that they'll be able to answer your question, but if they can, it can help you make a more informed decision about the item(s).
Explore Art Deco in the World
If you can't afford to add genuine Art Deco pieces to your collection or think that they'd clash with your already carefully constructed paradise, there are still a ton of great places you can visit to see pieces from the period. Digital societies like Art Deco News and the Art Deco Society of New York create a sense of community by never letting Art Deco slide into the past. Also, some past and present exhibits on the Art Deco Movement that have been showcased around the world include:
Reach out to Your Local Historical Societies
Depending on where you live, there might be a few hidden gems of Art Deco design that you're not familiar with. Try to reach out to any local historical societies in your area and see if they can give you any information about places to visit to get a taste for your hometown's own Art Deco experience.
Decorating With Art Deco Has Never Been Easier
You're absolutely not alone in your love for all things Art Deco, and thanks to the efforts of antiques lovers like yourself, the design aesthetic continues to live on nearly 100 years after it was first introduced. Whether you're ready to hunt down some Art Deco bookends or you have a date with a new design exhibit, celebrating that love of Art Deco has never been easier.