Imagine: it’s five-thirty on a wintry Friday evening. You just got off work and you’re heading to a friend’s apartment where she’s invited you over for a drink before a dinner party.
You lean into the wind. The streets are sooty canyons wrapped in shadow, but the streetlights twinkle all around you. You pass cafés glowing with laughter, and side-step honking cars.
Finally, you arrive in front of your friend’s apartment building, a towering display of stone carved with steps, rays, and geometric figures. Then you’re in an elevator inlaid with mother-of-pearl and striped wood. When the operator announces your floor, your friend has already thrown open her door, just a short trek further down a plush hallway, where rectangular sconces encased in bronze beam their light to her smiling face. Her apartment is like a movie set: glittering chandeliers, dramatic steps up and down between the rooms, and riotous fabrics. But it’s still, somehow, cozy and approachable.
Only moments before, you were a nobody pounding the pavement. This is worth the walk. This is Art Deco interior design.
What is Art Deco Interior Design?
With their clean lines and sharp shapes, Art Deco interiors, furniture, and building facades are some of the first designs we might think of as “modern.”
“Deco” is short for “Décoratifs,” or “Decorative,” part of the title of a design exhibition in Paris in 1925. Art Deco furniture and architecture gained popularity there in the 1920s and remained the style de rigueur in Europe and the US through World War II in the 1940s. The Art Deco period followed Art Nouveau, which had been gracing homes and public spaces since the 1880s.
Where Art Nouveau designs were known for undulating curves and floral motifs, taking their cues from nature—the Paris Metro station entrances are a famous example—Art Deco signaled a turn towards geometry. It was hugely influential for the Mid-century Modern designers to follow.
Art Deco is a distinctly urban aesthetic. It coincided with the Craftsman movement—which retained a connection to natural materials and imagery and valued hand-fabrication for America’s country estates—but Art Deco was associated with skyscraper cities, which were new at the time: New York, Chicago, Detroit, and more.
The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building were innovative geometric solutions to zoning laws, put into place to preserve sunlight as buildings climbed higher.
So Art Deco’s ethos was linked to the precision of machines and the glitter of wealth in new industries. The 1927 film Metropolis is considered the first science fiction movie, and it takes place in an elaborately imagined Art Deco city.
More than ten years later, in 1939, the New York World’s Fair showcased corporate and government visions for living integrated with technology, each exhibit housed in breathtakingly beautiful Art Deco buildings.
Eileen Gray was one of the most influential industrial and furniture designers at the time; an Irish ex-pat in Paris, she forged new respect for women in the field. Given all these developments, the Art Deco style is synonymous with the future.
Designers could not have invented Art Deco elements without the influence of the German Bauhaus school, which started up in 1919, but members of the Bauhaus and the Dutch De Stijl school leaned harder into the purity of shape, color, and craftsmanship. Art Deco was about glamor. And it still is.
Redecorating your home with an eye towards Art Deco can give you vintage luxury without clutter or fuss. And we have the benefit of hindsight: its range from the gleaming Roaring Twenties to the elegant muted 1940s gives you lots of Deco tones to choose from. If you want warmth with a clean look, try these modern Art Deco pieces and strategies.
9 Essential Elements for Decorating Art Deco-Style
The epitome of Art Deco luxury is in the details, in the metallic shine of furniture feet, hardware, and decorative touches throughout your home. Chrome and brass—or, silver and gold—and mirrors, as well as crystal, are the mainstays of an Art Deco look. They reflect light, making your space feel bigger and sparkle with intrigue.
Interior decorators tying together an Art Deco room are looking for colors to complement those metallic accents. Black and white are striking, classic choices, but dusty pink, jade green, rich red, midnight blue, turquoise, and warm yellow were common in Art Deco interiors and they brush up nicely for a modern take today. Try cream, buff, and gray shades for a softer neutral than pure white.
Art Deco furniture design ushered in a bold contrast: sensuous curves held up by delicate metal or wood frames. Each chair, couch, and cabinet holds its own in a marriage of inspiration from nature, pure geometry, and architectural principles. In Art Deco design, the furniture is a great way to add a colorful accent with rich upholstery, often in velvet or leather.
Art Deco textile and decor designers looked to nature for inspiration and then set it in a grid. Angular interpretations of florals and leaves, usually interlocking in thin lines against a color field, form striking quintessential Art Deco design patterns. Fans, rays, and steps are the most recurring shapes. Carefully choosing complementary patterns can enliven a space, with lots for the eye to find. Try motifs at different scales between carpets and wallpaper, key sites to play with patterns. Especially with patterns, forget “less is more”—in Art Deco interior design, more is more.
The lighting in an Art Deco style home is anything but fussy. It usually plays with scale: the glass panels around the lightbulbs are big but supported by thin, detailed metalwork. Geometric wall sconces, usually in bathrooms and hallways, can lend a flattering glow. Bespoke table lamps can be great finds—one fun trend puts swimmers, dancers, peacocks, and panthers to work holding up the lamp shades. Be sure to look for symmetrical shades shaped almost like fans or small skyscrapers. Many are made of milk glass, which diffuses light with a shimmer. Chandeliers with layers of angular crystal are the knockout centerpiece of any entryway, living room, or dining room.
Parquet, inlay, and lacquered wood
Many Art Deco designers were influenced by techniques and interior aesthetics and architecture from Japan, including methods of tiling multicolored woods together to form patterns and images. The distinct herringbones and diagonals in parquet floors lend subtle elegance and flow through a space, so it might be worth ripping up some of your carpets to see what’s under there. If decorative flooring isn’t available to you, incredible inlaid wood cabinets and wall-hangings can sometimes be found at interior design vintage sales.
Graphics and posters
With the rush of the 1920s at Deco’s inception, advertising became even more of an art form than it was already. Hanging exuberant, geometric posters selling everything from liquors to cruise ships can be a distinct and instantly recognizable way to brighten your space. Deco graphic design is known for its stark, flat shapes and innovatively decorated lettering. Beautiful modern women often figure centrally in the composition of the decor.
Boxes and vases
Nothing says good taste like an Art Deco-style accent piece. Large glass and ceramic vases in neon green or turquoise can fetch high prices now if they’re historic, but many artists selling their work in online stores are directly influenced by Deco shapes. Look for layers or steps, and floral imagery that celebrates imperfection in the glazing. Wooden organizers inlaid with mother of pearl were precious in the Deco period, and similar mirrored systems available today can be sweet touches for your office or bedroom.
Though mostly used on building exteriors, stone can make an appearance in your home around a fireplace or bathtub, or as a tabletop surface. Art Deco style carved stone is notable for the complex stories it tells with overlapping geometric patterns and stylized figures. Stonework with metallic bands conveying sunshine or moon rays is an unusual combination that can be brought down to earth in your kitchen island or bathroom sink!
Art Deco Design Examples and Inspiration
If you need some ideas to spark your next home project, take a look at these gorgeous examples of Deco-inspired interiors. They can be adapted to spaces big and small.
This living room makes the bold choice of painting the walls a deep blue-gray, which lets the metallic accents pop to prevent the room from feeling small or dark. Geometry in mirrors, decor, and furniture meets wavy organics in the art and textiles.
Parquet flooring leaps onto an accent wall in this dinette, which looks natural through its materials—wood, leather, and stone—so its angles won’t feel harsh. A striking brass light fixture is large enough to feel like an architectural element, and its tone harmonizes with the wood grain.
Pattern harmony! These don’t clash but complement by using shared color-schemes and differing graphic scales.
You might not have space to entertain at the scale of this hotel tea room, but it’s an amazing example of how immersive Art Deco interior design can be. The subtle differences in shades of pink prevent the color from feeling overwhelming, and the oversized light globes draw the eye up to the dome ceiling. The chairs are plush, updated takes on the classic Deco clamshell armchair. The shimmering curtain behind the bar plays warm light through the crystal glassware, which you can achieve with tricks as easy as string lights, a bar cart, and a metallic fabric!
The silver finish on this bathroom’s hardware makes what’s practical glamorous. The pared-down lights framing the mirror are quintessential Art Deco, and black and mint are fresh takes on historic tiles. All you need now are some soft bath towels, elegant hand towels, and your bamboo toothbrush!
This entryway makes nice use of a small space and a neutral palette. The pairing of standout sconces and mirror plays off replicas of the famous Nefertiti bust, which speaks to Art Deco designers’ interest in Ancient Egypt—with a fresh recast. A bold vintage poster brings out the gold accents.
6 Art Deco Interior Design Tips and Tricks
It might seem like you need a complete home renovation to achieve your dream Art Deco interior, but that’s not true! Try these strategies to quickly spruce up your rooms into an Art Deco palace:
1. When you go into a vintage store or antiques shop, ask where the Art Deco pieces are, or ask to see ones that might not be on display. Keep your sharp eyes open if you’re browsing and be specific if you’re looking for something specific—you never know what the place might have!
2. You can achieve a great retro look with new textiles. Upholstery and rugs fade fast, so your best bet for vibrant color and texture lies in soft surfaces that are new but Deco-inspired.
3. Online vendors will often tag their work “Art Deco” if their pieces use those themes, so entering the term in a search can be really fruitful if you’re looking for updated, handmade furnishings.
4. Keep an eye on trending colors and styles in interior design magazines and podcasts. What pops out to you? You can express your current taste in an Art Deco style to help your home feel fresh but classy.
5. Identify what about Art Deco you like best. Is it the clean lines and streamlined shapes? Or the fine details that take inspiration from nature? Some of both? This rule of thumb can help you narrow down your interior decorating choices.
Re-Deco-Rating Should Be Fun
Art Deco is visually stunning, but it’s also about comfort and having a good time! Sit on all the chairs until you find the one you love. Can you imagine yourself in this room, that one, or that one? It’s your space, so you can make it exactly how you want.
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