Art deco: good mixer with other styles

January 03, 1993|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing Writer

Art deco has undergone so many transformations since its emergence in the 1920s that I sometimes hesitate even to use the term. There's strong interest today in the original art-deco look as well as in its myriad variations and derivations. In fact, I would argue that deco serves as the basis for the modern interior. It remains a distinctive and powerful style because of its insistence on clean, uncluttered settings, which can accommodate an eclectic blend of furnishings.

Art deco was not really a new fashion when it first achieved popularity some 70 years ago. Even though it became a major component of the modern design movement, which did indeed revolutionize residential interiors, art deco's lineage can be traced back at least 200 years. With its elegantly restrained lines and its superb workmanship, deco represented the culmination of a centuries-old tradition of fastidious and refined French design.

It is this pedigree that sets deco well apart from the 1930s industrial style, which does resemble it in some superficial ways. The modern industrial look has its own merits. But because it is not based on exacting principles to the same extent as is deco, the industrial style doesn't look very good when it's mixed with other types of furniture design. And that's a major shortcoming, because few of us want to do our homes in strict accordance with any formula.

A deco setting, on the other hand, can easily absorb 18th- or 19th-century furniture styles without losing its coherence. As long as a piece is well-made -- regardless of its period -- the chances are good that it will work alongside art-deco accompaniments. What makes deco so adaptable? The key factor, again, is the quality of its craftsmanship. In a properly designed interior -- one in which attention has been paid to every element -- there's seldom a problem with introducing a variety of furnishings and accessories. And a genuine art-deco setting is nothing if not properly designed.

Take a look at these two chairs with black-lacquered arms and legs and trim lines upholstered in cinnamon-colored leather. Between them stands a small drop-leaf secretary in the style of Louis XIV. Among the array of objects on the table are an

English tortoise-shell box and brasses from India resting on Japanese pedestals. The art on the walls is equally eclectic, ranging from 18th-century European pastels to contemporary Asian prints.

This small corner tableau illustrates how art deco can readily be integrated with a variety of artifacts from different times, places and cultures. In this case, the pair of French deco chairs act as an anchor that pulls the entire composition together.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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