Art Deco Luxury Living in Paris
The origins and evolution of Art Déco style are closely linked to the radical geopolitical shifts following World War I—the dissolution of European empires into independent republics, the rise of the Soviet Union, the emergence of the United States as a global military power and of Hollywood as a global cultural power, and the annihilation of an entire generation of young men in France and other European countries. Across the Atlantic, Americans had an easier time picking up and carrying on, but Europeans had no choice other than to reinvent the future as they hoped it would be. Style moderne was a reflection of those hopes.
Social change, particularly the growth of the European middle class, was equally important. By the end of the 19th century, the greatest styles of French decorative arts—Renaissance, Régence and all the various Louis—were being inexpensively copied using industrial techniques. Many families could afford grand furnishings, leaving the wealthy without a means of displaying their superior status and good taste. Many of the wealthiest rejected old styles entirely, latching onto arcane modern design that was neither popular nor mass-produced, that relied on rare raw materials, and that was available only in world's most important cities. Style moderne became a byword for glamour and luxury.
Originally planned for 1915, the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes finally opened in 1925. When it finally occurred, the event was firmly rooted in style moderne. Entry requirements forbade the presentation of any object or structure copying or adapting a previously existing decorative style. Unlike previous international exhibitions, no machinery or other technology was featured. The focus was solely on architecture, decorative arts and luxury goods. The style moderne displays found great success among designers and their wealthy patrons, and the style came to dominate the decorative arts around the world for the next two decades. It was expressed quite differently in various countries, often taking on nationalistic elements such as Native American designs appearing in textiles or streamlined eagles seen everywhere from Washington, DC to Moscow to Nazi Berlin.
The style retained its purest form in France, becoming progressively more streamlined, structured and abstract. Curves were flattened or abandoned altogether in favor of straight lines and angles. Our dining table, for example, is basically a standard oval sheared of its curves to become diamond-shaped. When curves do appear, as in the lamp tables flanking the sofa, they do so in unexpected ways. Furniture legs were eliminated in favor of angular pillars. Geometric shapes—cubes, cones, pyramids and cylinders—became the primary elements of style. The color palette shrank and colors tended to be used in large blocks. With fewer colors at their command, designers focused on contrast, pairing light primary woods with bold, dark, patterned inlays.
Luxury was singly important. Fabrics were silk or velvet. Rugs, though in new colors and patterns, continued to be sourced from remote Persian and Chinese villages. Silver-, chrome- or nickel-plated handles and knobs reflected in the glossy surfaces of polished wood and mirrored glass. The rarest woods and exotic animal products from France's colonies in Africa, southeast Asia, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans were employed by cabinet-makers.
Though it dominated the decorative arts for at least thirty years in the first half of the 20th century, it was only due to the 1966 Paris retrospective, "Les Années 25: Art Déco" that the term "Art Deco" came to represent this most seminal moment in the history of modern design.