You may have noticed a new resurgence of interest in the Art Deco era. To be fair, it is a style that has never really left us as its heritage, personality and principles can still be found woven into all our homes and offices whether via original features, later reinterpretations, or even just amid our continued respect for crisp design and open spaces. Though fashions come and go, Deco speaks to many of the warmth and confidence of halcyon days, of the successful merging of art and industry and of timeless elegance. And unlike later mid-Century Modern items, the Art Deco period also offers a far more mature and established field in which to collect.
It was Judith Miller who reminded me recently, at the launch of her latest publication ‘Art Deco, the glamour of the Jazz Age’, that Deco was our first truly democratic and global style. She is right of course. From the lofty exclusive heights of Emile Ruhlmann or Ferdinand Preiss, to the unknown mass-produced items that filled every department store of the day, there was indeed something for every pocket and continent. But it was also much more than just this. Today as we look to re-embrace the Art Deco style, it is worth considering its roots and ideology to help us better understand it and welcome it into our modern homes again.
The seeds of Deco:
Many still believe that Deco was somehow miraculously conceived at the opening of the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Art that took place in Paris in 1925, yet in truth it has roots that stretch back much further. What came together at the 1925 World’s Fair was a fresh global energy that wanted to forget the tragedy and austerity of the First World War, that wanted to embrace the newly emerging machine age, and that also wanted to open the windows widely to the stuffy legacy of cluttered Victoriana. Bauhaus, Thonet, the Secessionist designers and Rennie Mackintosh of course all played their part in creating the design language of Deco simplicity, but so too did the wave of expats newly returned from Europe’s now shrinking Empires. Indeed look at photos of any period interior and you will quickly see that Deco’s draw was not only its ability to declutter the lines and physical spaces, but to also embrace the cultures that these expats used to call home. Open plan rooms (that have been the traditional dwelling format for many tribal cultures) suddenly took off in the 1920s as a new, exciting and healthy concept, and amid the sleek new modernist furnishings encased in exotic timbers, nestled ancient motifs and antique ethnic artefacts. In many ways it was an era much like our own, one learning to co-exist in a global melting pot of ideas and designs.
When it comes to collecting and integrating Art Deco into our homes then according to Jeroen Markies, one of the leading Art Deco specialists in this country, it is all about buying statement pieces with discernment. “There is a lot of interest globally at the moment in top quality English made items by the top designers such as Epstein and Hillie, and particularly in lighter timbers. Hollywood movies like ‘The Great Gatsby’ or programmes such as ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ have all reignited our love for 1920s frivolity and glamour, and it is a look that still works well in our modern homes”. But as interest in Art Deco continues to buck the general downward trend of antiques, it is also an important time to buy well as supply of the best pieces continues to dry up. For anyone new to the field, then purchasing or at least discussing from reputable established dealers is strongly advised not only because most pieces were sadly unlabelled, but also because subtle variances in colour and form can have a very big impact on both desirability and value. According to Jeroen, the savvy collector should also really focus on prewar pieces first as the build quality did drop off dramatically after WW2.
Welcoming it into our homes:
Unlike Art Deco collectors of the past who were more puritanical in their look and interest, today’s buyers seem far happier to mix things up. And that’s the great thing really, as a style originally intended to complement a whole host of other periods and cultures, Deco just works. Whether your other interests are African masks or Chinese porcelain many items simply look better juxtaposed on a crisp deco sideboard. For the academic amongst us, there is also lots of literature to be found.
So go on and Deco-rate your homes. Embrace those unashamed bronzes and chrome uplighters and revel in burr walnut or birds eye maple. For even if they provide your home with just an extra ounce of 1920s frivolity, then amid our austere times, that is surely money well spent!