Monthly Archives: February 2020

All About Art Deco pt 2: American Art Deco

 Hello! Eric here with part 2 of our Art Deco blog!

Emerging from previous styles like Art Nouveau, the French’s Art Deco exploded onto the scene in 1920’s and took France by storm with its luxurious, loud designs held within a simplified but efficient frame. Art Deco furniture was statement pieces and the statement was often luxury. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that Art Deco’s style and influence became largely dominant in the United States of America. However, by this time the styles had changed and evolved, and out of Art Deco emerged a re-definition of the styles approach. While the French’s art deco furniture often-emphasized glamour or class, the Americans took it on themselves to streamline the already sleek styles. America’s art deco had a prideful machine made look to its work. Simpler materials were used to communicate a more everyday broad appeal then the fancier French ingredients. The loud colors of the French’s influence were often traded in for more subdued colors; the silvers and grays of metal and chrome combined with the browns of affordable wood. Contrasting layers, such as a blonde wood drawer housed within darker maple, helped the pieces stand out in a vibrant but natural way. 

     Perhaps one of the most iconic designs to emerge from this is the waterfall aesthetic. Due to its stylish and futuristic design, plus its affordable cost, waterfall furniture flourished in the 1930’s and 40’s across America. Emerging from the Wernicke Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and named for its use of curves to simulate the flow of water off an edge, this style was prominent in chests, tables, chairs and even radios. Plywood, which could be bent and molded into curves, was used as the main material while simple metals, like copper, would be used to accent the pieces along with a veneer glossy finish. Instead of traditional frames, edge moldings typically support waterfall pieces. In keeping with the American, approach of the period, many waterfall pieces abandoned the heavily contrasting colors for a more uniform mahogany finish, though more vibrant pieces were not unheard of. Features like handles would typically be made of brass. Like much of the American art deco that preceded it, this style appealed to the middle class which sought uniformity in style, but its affordability also helped the style thrive during the great depression. American art deco was made quite appealing to younger people who, at the time, were seeking their first home or apartment. It’s for this reason that waterfall furniture also earned the nickname newlywed furniture. 

Photography of waterfall-style bedroom set (right) and an advertisement for a similar set in a Sears Roebuck catalog

     Unfortunately, due to their use of affordable materials, many waterfall pieces have not survived the tests of time. The heavy use of plywood means any conditions that could soften the glue, like heavy humidity, would be hazardous to the pieces’ structural integrity. Pieces that have suffered damage like this may appear as if they are peeling apart. Paint stripper will also likely loosen the glue and destroy the veneer. Extreme heat is another enemy; so you’d be wise to avoid mixing cigarettes or irons with your favorite waterfall piece. Simply due to the age of the cheaper material and exposure to everyday life, waterfall pieces that are still in great condition should be treated with great care as they are likely rare. 

Badly damaged Art Deco veneered piece

     The streamlined ascetic of Art Deco and its many offshoots has secured a special place in time. It’s a symbol of its era, being easily recognizable to many even if they can’t place a name. While the style was once seen as the future itself now it holds a more nostalgic quality. Typically period pieces will use Art Deco as a communication of an alternative future, a world of tomorrow that has long past and was never fully realized, or a period of optimism as the U.S. proudly marched towards their ideal of progress. The iconic stylings of the yesterdays tomorrow still appeal to the futurists of today. 

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All About Art Deco pt 1: European Art Deco

Hello there!
My name is Kate and I’m one of the Intake Specialists at Mimi’s Attic. A big part of my job is being able to identify different styles of furniture. When I started in this position, I began researching different styles and periods and was given the opportunity to really explore a particular style that interested me. I chose Art Deco as it has been a style that I’ve always loved but didn’t know that much about. Unknowingly my coworker Eric also chose Art Deco! We decided to team up and break it down into two parts. Here’s a little bit of what I’ve learned. I hope you enjoy!

The Art Deco movement, which was a style of visual arts, architecture and design, originated in Paris just before WWI and lasted till about 1940. The style takes its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs held in Paris in 1925 as a showcase for new inspiration. Widely speaking, Art Deco covers all styles during the interwar period, but there are
many variations within this from the sleeker curves that you see in American styles to the geometric lines of the more European influence. Art Deco had a very wide array of influences- Cubism, the Ballet Russes, Fauvism, Italian Futurism, Russian Constructivism, Egyptology, and African Tribal Art among many others. The previous artistic movement had been ‘Art Nouveau’ which was heavily influenced by floral motifs and intricate design.

Examples of Classic Art Nouveau Furniture

The swirls and floral motifs of Art Nouveau were smoothed out into sleeker, bolder, curved or geometric lines. The new Art Deco style was also influenced by the technological advances of the time and therefore had more geometric lines, and influences of aviation, like streamlined curves.

Pair of Lacquered Art Deco Nightstands (left) and Art Deco Chrome
and Wood Rolling Liquor Cabinet (right)

As well as being influenced by technological advances and affordable travel (meaning aviation was totally ‘in’ during this time), there were discoveries being made around the world which heavily influenced the style. The pyramids of Egypt, The tomb of Tutankhamun and various archeological digs influenced in the way of colour, shape and form. The silver-screen was also becoming a big influence, with the glamour of a new, exciting Hollywood and what was being seen on cinema screens starting to make its way across the globe and into homes. These motifs combined with machine age elements create the basics of the Art Deco look.

Mirrored Art Deco Credenza (left) and Rare French Art Deco Day Bed (right)

In France the early art deco style featured luxurious and exotic materials such as ebony, and ivory and silk, very bright colors and stylized motifs, particularly baskets and bouquets of flowers of all colors, giving a modernist look. Metals such as chrome and brass were very popular at the
time, other finishes also include opal, glass, leather, tortoiseshell, mirror, mother of pearl, exotic animal skins, velvet and walnut wood in high shine light and dark finishes.

Art Deco Dressing Table with Ebony and Ivory Inlays (left), and Art Deco Macassar Ebony Sideboard

Club chairs with sloped, curved arms were popular, as were light burr walnut pieces.

Eileen Gray Art Deco Club Chair

Everything was high end, polished, glamorous and luxurious! Art Deco is one of the most lasting styles to come out of the past 100 years; it has become so ingrained in our day-to-day lives that we often don’t notice it at all. Everyday things—from fonts to salt and pepper shakers to movie
theaters—are often shaped by this modern styles high hopes for the future. I hope you enjoyed this post and stay tuned for Part 2!
– Kate

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