Around a 100 years ago, an Expo just like the one we’ve witnessed in Dubai brought to the world a groundbreaking design style. This was the International Exhibition of the Modern Decorative and Industrial arts, 1925, held in Paris, and it turned out that the art director of one of Hollywood’s biggest studios at the time - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Cedric Gibbons, also attended.
The result? This opulent, grand decorative arts, architecture and design style – characterized by rich colours, bold and repeating geometry, stylised classical motifs (such as Greek statues) and plush, rare materials, soon found its place not only in Hollywood’s dazzling sets but also globally. Post World War I’s hardships, the flashy glam design resonated with the society of the Roaring Twenties – featuring jazz, luxe parties, fashionable bob cuts and sequined dresses.
Does that bring to mind ‘The Great Gatsby’ or ‘Aviator’ movies by any chance? That’s Art Deco! (Short for Arts Decoratifs, from the exhibition’s name) On a more familiar note, the Empire State Building too.
It projected extravaganza and opulence at the beginning of the 20th century, embodying certain anti-traditional approaches to designing and producing luxury items and even mass-produced wares.
“It projected extravaganza and opulence at the beginning of the 20th century, embodying certain anti-traditional approaches to designing and producing luxury items and even mass-produced wares,” explains Zahir Abdul Latheef, design director and founder of Design Nomad, an interior design studio based in Dubai, Muscat and Calicut.
Glossy, reflective furniture, exquisite craftsmanship, symmetry are other hallmarks of the style – and it became popular not only in architecture and interiors, but jewelry, glassware, fashion and even home appliances.
Art Deco in the UAE
Did you know that some of the lavish hotel lobbies such as Atlantis here in UAE, have Art Deco inspirations?
Latheef says, “Address Boulevard at Downtown showcases itself as a hotel influenced by the era of luxurious travel. This curvilinear beauty has some fresh takes on Art Deco styles in its interiors and restaurants. Atlantis, The Palm too, is not devoid of some considerable Art Deco influences.
“Waldorf Astoria at DIFC is more of a mid-century modern type, but still has a lot of influence of Art Deco features in it, especially in the reception, passages and other common areas.”
Bringing Art Deco to your contemporary home
These elements can not only help you design a full Art Deco home, but also bring accents for a fusion look featuring Contemporary style 2022.
1. Patterned wood flooring or plush carpet
Latheef says, “For flooring, wood would be the ideal option.” He recommends matching two stains of wood, in a geometric patterns such as herringbone or parquet for example. You can also opt for soft rugs or thick full-floor carpet with geometry.
He adds, “Remember to have thick carpets that slump when you step on them.”
2. Sunburst, chevron… incorporate classic Art Deco patterns
Art Deco was all about repeating, geometric patterns – whether on accent walls, furniture, upholstery, rugs or architecture. Zigzag or chevron, shells, trapezoidal, sunburst, herringbone, black and white checks, concentric arches are some patterns you can include.
For example, a graphic gold damask print wallpaper as an accent wall, or a black and white checkered floor. If you want only a subtle touch, you can use black and white zigzag cushions or chair upholstery, or an artwork with the print you like.
3. Rich, bright colours
Latheef recommends using lots of colours when needed. These can be for furniture, curtains and artwork. Popular colours of the time were jewel tones of yellow, red, peacock and emerald green, vermillion, navy blue, plum, pink and lots of gold. Neutrals such as beige are also options.
Latheef advises, “Add curtains with a mix of colours from the room's palette.”
4. ‘Shine bright like a diamond’: Rich wood, mirrored and reflective furniture and lighting
Make your interiors dazzle luxuriously with polished rich woods, black lacquered furniture, mirrored furniture or crystal lighting in dramatic geometric sconces (wall lights) or chandeliers. Latheef says, “A lot of Italian companies sell large decorative lighting that goes well with art deco moods. Even modernist lights fit in well.” For upholstery, think velvet and leather.
Art Deco’s rare material favourites at the time included ebony and ivory. Metals such as stainless steel, gold, brass and chrome, as well as marble, were also popular for furniture. For an understated addition – add a big Art Deco mirror.
5. Use stylised classical or East-inspired motifs
“Add in the key furniture and accessorize in a slightly assertive manner. Add motifs, tapestry and incorporate rich woods where possible,” says Latheef. Art Deco incorporated motifs from ancient Greece (think flowing sculptures), Egypt, Aztec and also Japan, India, China (such as an intricate ceramic vase), according to Masterclass.com.
He adds, “There are motifs too - humans figures at times or animals or a wide variety of foliages.”
6. Add Art Deco-style artwork
Latheef recommends adding quirky Art Deco artworks with loud colours. These can incorporate the mentioned motifs, and portraits by painter Tamara De Lempicka, Prometheus by Paul Manship, classical murals or high relief-panels are examples.
7. Marquetry on walls
“For walls, consider marquetry, antique mirrors, slightly darker blue or cream paints,” says Latheef. Marquetry is decorative work in which elaborately patterned wood veneers are applied on a surface.
If you own the house, you can also consider cornice work (decorative molding between your walls and ceilings), and wall paneling. Latheef adds, “Ceiling mould patterns that complement the wall finishes can be looked into as well.”
Although World War II’s devastation stopped the Art Deco movement in its tracks, giving way to minimalism, we still see its inspirations around us today. Why not join in by adding a touch of nostalgic, Hollywood glam or sparkle to your 2022 home?
Note: This article was first published in June 2022.