Deco Endures
By Karen Parr-Moody

My husband and I recently welcomed our new baby, Stella Lucy, home. Such an adorable tot needed a stylish nursery and we had been planning it for months.  An Art Deco era Waterfall dresser completely the look (photo, right).

The nursery needed a chest of drawers small enough to fit between the two windows, but large enough to hold clothes and blankets. I was determined to find something that would, at the very least, blend in with the gray-and-white chevron striped curtains that were custom made for the room.

Little did I know that this Waterfall dresser, by way of my husband's grand plan, would become the pièce de résistance that matched the curtains — and the room — to perfection.

Made during the 1930s, Waterfall furniture includes rolled front edges that mimic a waterfall and, to this day, lend the pieces their iconic grace. Such pieces originally came in a brown stain with inlaid marquetry work around the handles, which were often made of Bakelite.

The dresser we found had been refinished in a “shabby chic” style, which didn’t fit the nursery’s look. But it had the original Bakelite handles and those iconic lines.

My husband hatched a plan: He would repaint the dresser in a sleek gray and white to match the curtains.

I watched him sweat in the garage for days as he stripped and repainted this dresser, transforming the vintage piece into a new family heirloom.

Art Deco, while popularized during the “between the wars” years of the Roaring ‘20s, still blends in with homes today. For example, Mid-Century Modern furniture — also known as Danish Modern — intermingles well with Art Deco styles. And for Stella Lucy's nursery, I added a modern day find, the inexpensive "Poang" rocker from Ikea; its bentwood frame echoes the curved lines of the Waterfall dresser.

The era of Art Deco was one of decadence, a golden age during which carefree flappers danced the Charleston and modernity was celebrated. To create the furniture of Art Deco, designers drew from the past, inspired in part by the global excavations taking place at the time. In particular, the 1922 discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt was an influence. While Tut was not buried under a step pyramid, or any pyramid for that matter, the increased visibility of Egyptian antiquities, due to his tomb's discovery, caused such structures to became hallmarks of Art Deco design.

In the photo, above left, is a child's Art Deco wardrobe found at GasLamp Antiques and Decorating Mall. It has been repainted in vivid orange and aqua colors ($300; Booth B-2010). Strong vertical bands, as seen on the handles of this dresser and on the lower brace, are Art Deco hallmarks that reference the architectural discoveries of the era. These include the ziggurats that were found in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, along with the step pyramids of Egypt. Such vertical bands were used to create a strong sense of line or division.

Along with ziggurats, other designs typical of Art Deco are chevron patterns, such as those seen in the door of this wonderful humidor/smoking stand, right, which is lined in copper ($395; Booth B-225). Another Art Deco traits is seen in this stand: The use of Bakelite in the knob, as man-made materials were used to celebrate the “Machine Age.” Glass and stainless steel were other common materials of the period.

Something one finds in Art Deco are extremely graphic patterns that are repeated within a piece, such as those seen in this oak bookcase with glass doors, which is American from the 1930s ($495; Booth B-2007). As with Waterfall furniture, this bookcase possesses the sweeping curves that were typical of the period. Another Art Deco element seen in this piece are the streamlined feet. Such aerodynamic streamlining is typical of later Art Deco details and resembles the streamlined trains being designed at the time.

Art Deco furniture is unusual among the antique genres in that, while it has a retro charm, it still looks as fresh today as it did when it was designed. Perhaps that is because its designers were looking to what they imagined was the future. Perhaps it is simply because the design is clean and flowing, like a Frank Lloyd Wright home. Whatever the reason, Art Deco style endures to this day.

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