Art Deco Furniture Collection: Understanding the Style

Updated February 1, 2022
Art Deco Style room

Celebrate the Jazz Age's imminent centennial by bringing the lavish and glittering parties exemplified in F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous works to life with new pieces of Art Deco furniture. From rich exotic woods to mirror-like lacquers, you don't have to travel back to the 1920s to be surrounded by it today.

Art and Design for a New Age

The Art Deco period extended roughly between the mid-1920s to the early 1940s, and describes a specific aesthetic movement that transcended countries and artistic mediums. Architecture, furniture, lighting, illustration, and jewelry are just a few of the many areas that were influenced by Art Deco design. Although the style was first heralded during its exhibition debut at the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, it didn't come to be widely known as Art Deco until much later in the mid-1960s.

Despite its lack of nomenclature at the time, this movement was so fresh and distinctive that it took the world by storm, traveling outside of France across the Atlantic and into the American market. There it continued to flourish, but as with all movements, its time eventually came to an end, overshadowed by the threats of war and the impacts of a post-war world.

Art Deco Furniture Characteristics

Art Deco cabinet with enamel plaques

Although Art Deco has a few main guiding principles, that're transposed from medium to medium, the furniture from the period is some of the most emblematic and comprehensibly representative of the thematic style itself. Of these characteristics, these are the main ones you'd need to know to be able to discern a piece of Art Deco furniture for yourself:

  • Heavy lacquer - While lacquer wasn't a new type of furniture finish in the '20s-'30s, it was definitely used in a newfound abundance with Art Deco designers. Thanks to the hardened layers of lacquer, furniture could take on a seamlessly shiny, reflective look that was en vogue at the time.
  • Waterfall effect - The rounded edges that seem to just fall away that can be found on items like bookshelves, drawers, and desks was incredibly popular with Art Deco designers, and the style was so beloved that it was recycled and modified during the mid-century with the many pieces of furniture that featured softened edges.
  • Exotic woods - Another tell-tale sign that a piece was designed using Art Deco principles is the presence of luxurious, exotic woods. Types like ebony, maple, and ash were used in abundance.
  • Geometric designs - In response to the natural motifs of the Art Nouveau period, Art Deco designers incorporated sharper, more geometric shapes into their pieces. Think motifs like sunbursts, fans, and towers.
  • Reflective materials - When not using natural materials, furniture and lighting designers enjoyed experimenting with cooler, reflective materials like chrome and steel in their pieces. This helped take the luster of the new era into the home.
  • Marble and jeweled inlays - Inlays have been a popular feature in furniture design for hundreds of years, and those that were included in Art Deco furniture were often made out of marble or lustrous jewels like mother of pearl.

Famous Art Deco Furniture Designers

Art Deco began in France, and it's there that most of the prolific Art Deco artisans came from. While there were many notable non-French Art Deco creators dispersed across the continent and beyond, those whose works centered on furniture and domestic products were mainly French. Despite their shared heritage, each of these furniture designers distinguished themselves for their unique takes on the popular style.

Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann

David-Weill desk by Emile Jacques-Ruhlman

Perhaps the best known and most significant Art Deco furniture designer, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, was no stranger to the design world even in infancy. His parents owned a successful painting and contracting firm, which he took over in the early 20th century. Just a decade later, Ruhlmann had established his own interior design company, and through this business, Ruhlmann began his foray into design.

His earliest pieces were reflective of the Arts and Crafts movement, but as the 1920s went on, his designs incorporated stronger 18th century influences, which he modified into his own unique style. Although his furniture was almost never constructed by his own hands, the pieces were still priced at exorbitant amounts. Yet, the rare woods like Brazilian rosewood and Macassar ebony that he used, as well as his ivory embellishments, spoke to his intended luxury market.

Süe et Mare

Sue et Mare chair at Beaux-Arts de Bernay museum

Louis Süe and André Mare, each of them talented artists in their own right and contemporary students in the art salons throughout metropolitan France at the turn of the century, formed a partnership during the Art Deco era that would come to be called Süe et Mare. Although their partnership was briefly interrupted by World War I, the two rekindled their creative bond and created many pieces in the Art Deco style. Admittedly less experimental than some of the artists of the period were, their pieces exhibited scalloped edges, ivory and mother of pearl inlays, and most importantly, noticeable soft, sensual curves.

Paul T. Frankl

Paul T. Frankl chair and table

A product of the Berlin art scene, Paul T. Frankl took his European trainings to the United States, where he began innovating in architecture and furniture design. Unlike some Art Deco artists, Frankl was particularly known for a specific design which he contributed to the movement--skyscraper-furniture. From desks to chairs, and everything in-between, Frankl pushed furniture's boundaries when it came to height and geometry and replicated the newly popular skyscraper image into his wooden furniture time and time again.

Jazz Up Your Home With These Art Deco Hacks

Art Deco desk

Genuine Art Deco furniture is incredibly expensive, and not everyone has the desire to transform their home into an opulent replica of Jay Gatsby's infamous West Egg mansion. However, when armed with an eagle eye and a few top-notch hacks, you can bring an elegant Jazz Age flair to your décor without worrying about it looking like you set up your house for a costume party.

  • Focus on picking out streamlined furniture - Pick pieces of furniture, like side tables and floor lamps, that're devoid of unnecessary frills. You want items to be sleek and straight; bonus points for picking pieces that feature a geometric applique or motif somewhere in their design.
  • Reflective furniture is your friend - Try to find pieces that are shiny and reflective; your furniture should be able to reflect the light that's cast onto it rather than absorb it.
  • The more mirrors you have, the better - Mirrors weren't only used to look at yourself in Art Deco design. In fact, large and small mirrors alike were plastered from floors to ceilings to capture and reflect as much light as possible.
  • Choose rich metallics and colors - Stray away from pillows, chairs, and sofas in pastels or busy prints. Instead, you should pick out things with bold metallics like silver and gold or rich hues of things like red and green.

Bring the Roaring Twenties Back in Style

While nearly a century has passed since Art Deco stole the world's breath away, remnants of the aesthetic are no less popular today than they were a hundred years ago. To honor the historic aesthetic and pay true homage to the roaring twenties, you can dedicate just a small section of your urban interior to the period with a piece or two of Art Deco furniture. From a richly lacquered coffee table to a geometric mirror on the wall, the options to mix and match with your modern sensibilities are endless.

Art Deco Furniture Collection: Understanding the Style