Art Deco design sources

Art Deco fell out of a clear blue sky at the 1925 Paris Exposition right? That's how the coffee table books state it. As I've said many times before designers don't live in a vacuum; rather they soak up ALL the styles that have gone before them & meld those influences into a particular style. In this case Art Deco. And even within this style there are many sub-styles, ie Egyptian Deco, Skyscraper Deco, Streamline Deco, Mayan Deco, etc. etc.. This page is just a quick look at some of those influences.

Art deco prototype buildings in Manchester UK 1908 Art Deco prototype tiles on his house in Hale, near Manchester, UK, c1914

Have a guess when the above were produced? They were designed by an English architect, then very influential but since forgotten, called Edgar Wood, around Manchester, in the north of England. Wood was better known for his earlier Arts & Crafts work, but he developed his style far from this. These are unmistakeably Art Deco in form, style & colours. The houses were incredibly built in 1908, the tiles (from his own house) c.1914.

CR Mackintosh stepped front door at Derngate UK, c1917 CR Mackintosh stepped fireplace & interior at Derngate UK, c1917 CR Mackintosh Jazz stained glass at Derngate UK, c1917

Have a guess when the above were produced? They were designed by CR Mackintosh for 'Derngate' in UK c1917. Nearly Mack's last work, in terms of furniture & interiors, they are strongly Deco in styling. The front door & fireplace have a stepped 'Skyscraper' style. The stained glass is pure Cubist in style & colour. Mack was a contemporary of Edgar Wood, they knew of each other, there must have been some cross influences between them. Where architects like these led, others followed the influence.

A C18th European painted folk wardrobe with Cubist patterns A C18th European painted folk wardrobe with Cubist patterns

This is an oft overlooked source of influence on Deco styling. Above are shown 2 C18th European painted 'folk art' wardrobes. Look closely at the painted decoration, it is pure Cubist style, even the colouring on 1 is exactly as you see in many Cubist paintings. That is no co-incidence. There is an argument to say there are no new ideas, just re-worked old ideas.

A C16th Manor house with stepped gable C17th Flemish houses with stepped gables

Some older influences above. LH a C16th manor house & RH C17th Flemish houses with stepped gables. These stepped gable houses were to be found across central Europe, from Holland to Poland, in the C17th. The stepped shapes are a precursor to Deco, and must have lingered in the architectural memory before being re-vamped. In fact the stepped shapes from the Egyptian & Mayan pyramids have lingered in architectural memory ever since, both being strong themes in Deco styling.

Art deco wooden book stand, Sante Fe style Art Deco plaster ceiling rose design ART08

Q. So where did the design language for Art Deco come from ?
A. Many sources. But decorative elements from South America were strong. This is a copy of an C18th New Mexican Sante Fe style book or bible stand, we made a few years ago. It looks both basic & rustic in style, mainly due to the pine wood used & nailed construction.

However, look again at it. If this had been made in burr maple or maybe a white lacquered finish, this would look like a crisp Art Deco piece. The elements are all there. The sharp zigzag shape, rounded cut-out of the base, and most of all the squares cut-out design in the centre. Variants of this shape are seen everywhere in Art deco styling. See the plaster ceiling rose for example.

The South American influence on Art Deco styling;
Art Deco Sante Fe style door design detail Art Deco Sante Fe style door wardrobe
Art Deco Sante fe style display cabinet Art Deco Sante fe style display cabinet
Art Deco Sante fe style display cabinet Art Deco Sante fe style display cabinet

Here a few examples to make the point. The furniture is all in the New Mexican Sante fe style. While the furniture has more of a rustic look, there are very strong Deco elements in the designs. While the Mayan influenced deco style is the obvious descendant of South American influence, so many of these patterns are the mainstay of Deco.

Many people think of the Deco style as a single homogenous one. In reality it is an umbrella term covering a wide range of styles; Streamlined look, the 'Skyscraper' style, the pastel colours look of 'Miami' Deco, maybe French Deco, Cubist style, Med / Spanish Revival Deco, Egyptian/Mayan Deco, etc. etc. etc.. Although generally seen as a between the wars style, it had started earlier & it's influence is still felt today.

The styles making up Art Deco also changed over time, as did it's designers. .For eg, Paul Frankl made famous the 'Skyscraper style' of furniture in the late 20's. But by the early 30's he had dropped it, due to the great crash/depression, and went on to produce different Modern work, as did many of the other designers.

Yet somehow, most Art Deco work tends to be recognised as such immediately. Whatever the stylistic variations, the general look & proportions, the materials, the shapes, the detailing, etc., tend to be common across Art Deco.

The Omega Workshops influence on Art Deco styling;
Omega Workshops Bloomsbury group lamp early precursor to Art Deco style Omega Workshops Bloomsbury group lamp early precursor to Art Deco style Omega Workshops stepped lamp early precursor to Art Deco style

The lamps above were designed by the English Omega Workshops, c1913, a good 12 years before the Paris 1925 show. Both the colours & style are Art Deco. The one on the right even has stepped Skyscraper styling!

Christopher Dresser's influence on Art Deco styling;
Dr Christopher Dresser teapot Dr Christopher Dresser tea set
Dr Christopher Dresser toast rack Dr Christopher Dresser wallpaper

England, 1860's & 70's saw the very influential designer Christopher Dresser turn his hand to a huge range of products, many of which were so forward looking & modern they ARE Art Deco. It's easy to see where later designers would be influenced by these designs.

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