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What is Art Deco?

Art Deco is a design style that originated in France in the 1910s and 20s. The style is eclectic, glamorous, elegant, modern, and also functional, due to the use of new architectural techniques and building materials. Prior to the heyday of Art Deco, the Art Nouveau era embraced more organic, softer, pastel forms. Art Deco turned resolutely away from this, taking on the best of neoclassicism, cubism, and modernism, and defining the style of Europe during the roaring 20s.

The style took the United States by storm starting in the late 1920s and lasting until the eve of World War II. New York, Miami Beach, Detroit, and Los Angeles are four American cities that used the Art Deco style of architecture extensively. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in New York are perhaps the two most famous American Art Deco landmarks.

Though the style is primarily associated with Paris and the large American cities mentioned above, some very beautiful examples of Art Deco exist elsewhere, such as in Cuba and Romania. On a smaller scale, Art Deco touches still exist in many American cities – even very small towns, due to the influence on housing architecture, train station design, and movie theater design during the 1930s.

Clean, geometric shapes, sweeping lines, bevels, inlaid wood, and materials like stainless steel, aluminum, Bakelite, and lacquer are characteristic of Art Deco design. The style is bold, but not overly ornate. Many art and style historians believe that Art Deco was a reaction to the austerity measures forced by the ravages of World War I. The arc of Art Deco influence ended around the start of World War II, making it an identifiable period of elegant, high style, bookended by two world tragedies.

Interest in the style revived in the late 1960s, and starting in the 1990s, a number of Art Deco landmarks throughout the US underwent restoration due to a renewed appreciation of this style that was based on style pure and simple, rather than political or philosophical tenets. And even though 80 years or more have passed since the Art Deco era, the designs look just as modern, clean, and bold today as they ever did.

Interior designs today regularly make use of various Art Deco motifs, in the form of furniture, clocks, artwork, and architectural features such as door frames, mirrors, and lighting fixtures. In the world of art and architecture, Art Deco design heavily influenced the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, and the Memphis-Milano architectural movement of the 1980s.

Art Deco is a style that is aesthetically pleasing and timeless enough that it will probably influence modern design for many decades to come. It represents a brief, but important time period in world history, when world travel became possible, along with the sharing of ideas and design influences. These factors make it particularly interesting today, in a time of worldwide connectedness and increased appreciation of great design, no matter what part of the world it comes from.