Art Deco: There’s a Name for that Thing You Like

One of the best things about growing older is learning how your thoughts and ideas fit into the world around you, or the world of the people who came before. I’ve found this fascinating, with all kinds of “movements”: politics, religion, art, and of course, architecture.

My husband, an architect, seems to know what everything and every movement is called. (Recently we were in an old, historic town, and I asked Mr. McDoogal if he knew what a style of brick was called, and he DID.) When we were first dating, we attended many Smithsonian museums in the DC area, and traveled a bit. I’d point at something, say I liked it, and he’d identify it as Art Deco. After several instances of this, I realized we were on to something. The kicker was our first trip to New York, when I told him the Chrysler Building was my favorite building in the city. The Chrysler Building is one of the hallmarks of American Art Deco architecture.

So, I liked Art Deco”¦neat. I wanted to know more about what it meant, as even aesthetic movements such as this one have important historical context. It originated in Paris, France, and succeeded Art Nouveau. It came to the US during the roaring twenties, during the period of opulence between the first and second World Wars. Common motifs in Art Deco design are sunburst designs, geometric shapes, and the smooth lines of ships and the icon style of African and Egyptian art. The designs of Art Deco display the time period’s enthusiasm for metal and glass: the very materials that made the skyscrapers such as the Chrysler Building possible.  

If you think you don’t know what Art Deco looks like, you’re probably wrong. But like me, you just don’t know you know. Picture just about anything that you associate with the 1920s or “˜30s in the United States, and it’s likely that you’re picturing something that was a part of, or inspired, by, Art Deco. In the US, the cities with the most surviving Art Deco Design are those that experienced relative prosperity in the “˜20s and “˜30s: Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.

Like many other art movements, Art Deco met its demise during World War II. The mass production of metal and glass was out of the question during wartime, and people were starting to see the whole movement as tacky and opulent. Fortunately, as seen in the city-specific photo galleries linked above, many examples of Art Deco architecture still survive today.

Photos:,, and

2 replies on “Art Deco: There’s a Name for that Thing You Like”

Love Art Deco. My first exposure was through the old Hollywood films of the 30’s, those glorious sets, especially the MGM musicals directed by Busby Berkeley. The Chrysler Building remains a popular architectural monument because of its cool streamlined beauty. Hattie, are you familiar with the artist Erte? Can’t discuss Art Deco without mentioning him.

Like Kitty, my love of Deco is directly connected with my love of old Hollywood films, but I was first exposed to the design aesthetic by a coffee table book of Erte. I would just sit and stare at the drawings as a kid and wish I could crawl inside the pictures and life in them.

I’ve often considered getting a Deco flavored tattoo, but I haven’t pulled the trigger on it yet.

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