French Art Deco, not mid-century modern, is the furniture trend to watch. Clare Dowdy investigates the latest must-have vintage fashion.
Art Deco has taken the place of mid-century modern. Collectors and interior designers are increasingly interested in this earlier period’s furniture, which they mix with mid-century and contemporary pieces for added richness.
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Art Deco, with its sleek geometric or stylised forms, swept the world by storm in the 1920s and 1930s. It was a reaction to the natural, flowing designs of Art Nouveau, which were popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, one country in particular holds the Art Deco crown: France. Because, in contrast to much Art Deco elsewhere, including the United States, French Art Deco furniture was handcrafted rather than mass-produced.
These high-quality, one-of-a-kind pieces were created by ébénistes, or cabinetmakers, who specialised in intensive inlaying, marquetry, and lacquering and inscribed their initials on each piece. Furniture designed by the best of them, such as Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, René Groult, Paul Dupré-Lafont, and Pierre Legrain, is in high demand. and only for the wealthiest individuals.
French Art Deco wasn’t a celebration of mass-production – it was a continuation of all the fine workmanship we associate with the best antiques – Carmine Bruno
On the online furniture market According to Carmine Bruno, CEO of The Bruno Effect, there is a resurgence of interest in Art Deco, “after being somewhat eclipsed in recent years by the ongoing popularity of mid-century modern,” he tells BBC Culture. “In particular, French Art Deco is having a moment.
“French Art Deco wasn’t a celebration of mass-production – it was a continuation of all the fine workmanship we associate with the best antiques,” Bruno adds, “but with a forward-looking outlook that now looks both decorative and modern to our eyes.”
This is supported by Anthony Barzilay Freund, director of fine art and editorial director of online design marketplace 1stDibs: “The pieces appear to exist in two worlds: on the one hand, the world of antiques, with its sinuous forms, luxurious detailing, and fine craftsmanship; and on the other, modernity, as evidenced by the designers’ pared-down silhouettes and forward-thinking approach to materials, ornament, and functionality. Many of the best examples of Art Deco were ahead of their time and appear to have been created decades later.”
This apparent modernity, influenced by Cubism, is part of the appeal of French Art Deco for collectors and designers. “With its sober, clear, and clean lines, this furniture corresponds to the expectations of many enthusiasts who wish to incorporate an older piece into contemporary interiors,” says Gérald Remy, heritage curator of the exhibition Le Chic! French Decorative Arts and Furniture from 1930 to 1960.
These collectors’ items are now appearing in the most opulent of homes. US design firm Hoedemaker Pfeiffer installed a sideboard by Charles Dudouyt – one of French Art Deco’s most famous exponents, best known for designing pieces with a rustic and modernist nature; and a pair of crushed velvet chairs by Guillerme et Chambron, who designed in the post-Deco era but still adhered to many Deco forms – in a mid-century house by architect Lionel Pries in Seattle.
“Many early 1970s furniture designs took cues from Art Deco shapes and forms,” explains Peak Petersen, project manager at Hoedemaker Pfeiffer. The firm also installed a Swedish Baroque cabinet from the 18th century, which “has the beginnings of repetition in form that fuelled later Art Deco masters,” she adds.
Tim Pfeiffer of Hoedemaker Pfeiffer became obsessed with French Art Deco while working at Ralph Lauren in Paris from 1997 to 2008, and began scouring flea markets for pieces. “I fell in love with the era’s elegant discipline of shapes in both architecture and the decorative arts.”
Meanwhile, 1stDibs interior firm Jesse Parris-Lamb used the 1930s Chrysler Building as inspiration for a loft in New York’s SoHo, and brought in pieces by Dudouyt and Paul Frankl. Amanda describes the reupholstered Dudouyt dining chairs as “robust, beefy, and incredibly comfortable.” “He had a way of embellishing chunky proportions with elegant carvings that is unmistakably his own,” Jesse says of the designer. The bar’s fluted glass sconces date from the late 1930s.
Fluting is prevalent throughout this loft, as it is in the work of French Art Deco designers and decorators. “We came across many varied uses of fluting from this period – in wood, stone, metal, and glass – during our research,” they write. “I’ve done everything from cigarette cases to armoires,” says Whitney Parris-Lamb. “We ended up deploying this motif throughout the apartment,” she says, referring to the tiny, fluted glass on architectural partitions and the massive wood flutes on the custom burl wood bar.
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