Art Deco

Art Deco was the style of design and architecture that marked the era. Originating in Europe, it spread to North America in the mid-1920s and developed in a different direction than that of Europe. Expressionism, and later surrealism, were the preferred styles in Europe during the 1920s. Art Deco, already globally popular, found favor among designers in America as the 1920s progressed, culminating with the opening of Radio City Music Hall in 1932.

Art Deco’s influence permeated culture from fashion to jewelry to furniture to artworks to architecture and to modes of transportation (e.g. railroad engines and automobiles). The Art Deco movement revolved around strong geometric shapes, bold colors and strong contrast. Art Deco accents heighten the drama room via mirrors and metallic finishes. (

The New York skyline was radically changed by the Chrysler Building designed by William Van Allen in Manhattan (1927–30),  which became the icon of Art Deco. It was a seventy-seven-floor tall advertisement for Chrysler automobiles. The top was crowned by a stainless-steel spire and was ornamented by deco “gargoyles” in the form stainless steel radiator cap decorations. The base of the tower, thirty-three stories above the street, was decorated with colorful art deco friezes, and the lobby was decorated with art deco symbols and images expressing modernity.

The Chrysler Building was followed by Empire State Building by William F. Lamb (1931) and the RCA Building (now the Comcast Building) in Rockefeller Center, by Raymond Hood (1933). The tops of the buildings were decorated with Art Deco crowns and spires covered with stainless steel, while the entrances and lobbies were lavishly decorated with Art Deco sculpture, ceramics, and design. Similar buildings, though not quite as tall, soon appeared in Chicago and other large American cities.

The grand showcases of Art Deco interior design were the lobbies of government buildings, theaters, and particularly office buildings. Interiors were extremely colorful and dynamic, combining sculpture, murals, and ornate geometric design in marble, glass, ceramics and stainless steel. An early example was the Fisher Building in Detroit, by Joseph Nathaniel French; the lobby was highly decorated with sculpture and ceramics.

Many of the best surviving examples of Art Deco are movie theaters built in the 1920s and 1930s. The Art Deco period coincided with the conversion of silent films to sound, and movie companies built enormous theaters in major cities to capture the huge audience that came to see movies. Movie palaces in the 1920s often combined exotic themes with Art Deco style; Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood (1922) was inspired by ancient Egyptian tombs and pyramids, while the Fox Theater in Bakersfield, California attached a tower in California Mission style to an Art Deco hall. The largest Art Deco theatre of all is Radio City Music Hall in New York City, which opened in 1932. Originally designed as a stage theater, it quickly transformed into a movie theater, which could seat 6,015 persons. The interior design by Donald Deskey used glass, aluminum, chrome, and leather to create a colorful escape from reality.

“A Salute to Art Deco”, a video compilation featuring images from the Art Deco period with music by The Savoy Orphans, can be found at