Known for gangsters, talkies and the Great Depression, the iconic 1930s also produced the instantly recognizable Art Deco style. Both sleek and bold, Art Deco combined graphic designs, repeating patterns and intricate inlays into its furniture. Many pieces from this era incorporated innovative materials and influences from regional and world cultures. Streamline Moderne, a design style that emerged late in the 1930s Art Deco movement, incorporated more industrial, utilitarian design elements.
A term coined to describe the designs of the 1930s, “Art Deco” encompasses all design styles of the era. This includes most furniture styles, from the inlayed wood pieces designed by France’s Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, to the minimalist, Scandinavian-style pieces by Finnish designer Alvar Aalto. The most recognizable Art Deco furniture examples marry the organic, natural influences of the preceding Art Nouveau style and the stark, graphic lines of Cubism. Art Deco furniture often was mass produced, machine made in factories, and incorporated modern materials including laminated woods, molded plywood, and bent metals -- especially chrome and plastics such as bakelite. Upholstered furniture from the period features wide, mesa-flat or scrolled arms, symmetrical tufting and luxurious fabrics, such as a velvet or leather club chair. Art Deco’s primary color palette includes bold golds, blacks, silvers, whites and reds; however, some regional variations utilized softer pastel colors.
A style that developed into Mid-Century Modern, this modest, utilitarian design style first surfaced in the mid-1930s as Streamline or Art Moderne. Although most often associated with the architecture of the late ‘30s, this term also describes furniture styles prevalent at the end of the decade. This sub-movement of Art Deco was heavily influenced by the geometric and industrial lines of the Bauhaus school of design. The minimalist designs of Streamline Moderne feature geometric symmetry and natural materials, such as the molded plywood chairs and tubular designs by Marcel Breuer. Moderne furniture also was heavily influenced by the industrial developments in transportation, and featured elements reminiscent of the design details prevalent in the period’s ships, trains, automobiles and airplanes.
Sunbursts, Steps and Waterfalls
Repeating patterns produced with heavy-lined, graphic symmetry are common design elements of 1930s furniture, and are found in the upholstery prints and decorative embellishments such as drawer pulls or table legs. These motifs often featured natural elements depicted with unnatural preciseness, such as the perfectly symmetrical sunburst. European Art Deco also incorporated traditional elements, such as a harp or laurel, depicted with the graphic Art Deco precision. A common feature of period dressers and cabinets, the waterfall design element refers to the cascading, or curved, front edges reminiscent of its namesake. Some waterfall furnishings also incorporate the step design detail, in which the curved detail is repeated, with progressively taller levels. The depiction of the Emerald City in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” is a classic example of the step design element.
While industrial design heavily influenced Art Deco furniture, cultural style elements inspired many pieces. The archaeological discoveries of the 1920s and ‘30s led to a style dubbed Egyptomania, which featured elements such as graphic lotus flowers, scarabs and palm branches. The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s resulted in some Art Deco furniture incorporating African design elements. Ancient Mexico, specifically the Mayan culture, had an influence on furniture design, particularly those styles in the Southwest U.S. Some 1930s furniture designers found inspiration in East Asia, often incorporating the jade and sleek lacquer in Chinese and Japanese designs.
- Art Deco 1910-1939; Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton and Ghislaine Wood
- BBC: Period Style 1930s
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Bauhaus, 1919–1933
- Design Museum: 1930s Chairs
- Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann Art Deco Museum: Furniture
- Design Museum: Alvar Aalto
- Nuvvo: An Intro to Streamline Moderne
- Victoria and Albert Museum: Art Deco
- Smithsonian American Art Museum: Picturing the 1930s
- Montparnasse: History of French Art Deco
- Photo Credit mahroch/iStock/Getty Images
1930s Style Interior Decorating & Deco
Interior design in the 1930s is chiefly characterized by Art Deco style, which itself is an amalgamation of many styles and influences....
Living Room Decoration: 1930s Style
The '30s was the time of the Great Depression in the United States, yet notable art and architecture emerged during this time....
Kitchen Furniture in the 1920s, 1930s & 1940s
Vast changed occurred between the 1920s and 1940s. In the 1920s, America's culture revolved around youth and newness in contrast to a...
1930s to 1940s Furniture
Between the Great Depression and World War II, the United States experienced enormous upheaval and change. Swing jazz permeated the radio waves....
Wood Finishing in the 1930s
Furniture from the 1930s has a genteel familiarity that is reminiscent of great-grandmother’s parlor and Hollywood’s Golden Era. Cozy, overstuffed sofas and...
1930s Decorating Styles
History and art have been intertwined since man's first drawings on cave walls. Current events invariably affect the development of artistic forms,...
Bedroom Styles of the 1930s
Bedrooms of the 1930s often had a classy earthy tone and were notable for their geometric designs and simple aesthetic. The prevalence...
1930s Home Styles
A few notable movements in American residential architecture occurred in the first half of the 20th century. A large migration of people...
Kitchen Colors of the 1930s, 1940s & 1950s
Since the start of the 20th century, dozens, if not hundreds, of labor-saving appliances and devices have been invented solely for use...
Fireplace styles in the 1930s aptly managed to capture the ever changing moods and situations of a world caught between two wars....
A Typical 1930s Dining Room
Interior design in the 1930s was heavily influenced by the Art Deco movement. Traditional dining rooms reflected that style, which originated in...
1930s Style Sofas
The 1930s were dominated by the Art Deco movement, a style that began in the late 1920s and drew inspiration from Cubism,...