‘Moderne’ Style of Art Deco Popular in the 20s & 30s

A style of art deco popular in the 1920s and 1930s is called “moderne.” Moderne was popular in Europe, but it took off in the U.S., where the chrome-and-glass sets of Hollywood movies showed this new style to an international audience already interested in it. Taking ideas from the Wiener Werkstatte, designers used strong, geometric shapes in their work and polished the surfaces with chromium and aluminium. People often say that American furniture and interior designer Donald Deskey’s work is the perfect example of the moderne style.

Sparton Model 557 'Sled' Table Radio, ca. 1936 Brooklyn Museum
Sparton Model 557 ‘Sled’ Table Radio, ca. 1936 Brooklyn Museum

How it looked on the outside

Moderne was a decorative style mostly about how things looked on the outside. It used the machine aesthetic to hide how things worked on the inside. It used the look of the machine as a decoration, but it didn’t have to work with the machine in any way. Moderne architecture was most noticeable in public buildings like skyscrapers and movie theatres. These buildings advertised “the promise of a machine-made future.” But as the Depression got worse, fewer and fewer modern buildings were built. Instead, the style was put into things like furniture and home decor. Not many homes were built in the moderne style, but those that were often had traditional floor plans and decor inside, despite their fancy exteriors.

New materials

Moderne also had a lot to do with the new, whether it was the materials, the people, or the technology. Bakelite and phenolic resins were very popular for a long time. More and more brick buildings were “skinned” with concrete or plaster to give them a smooth, metal-like finish, which added to the machine look. Since the ocean liner was a physical representation of everything new, it wasn’t surprising that these buildings started to look like ships. Since many modernist designers worked on private projects for wealthy clients, the style came to represent the American Dream very quickly. Postmodernism later brought back many styles that were part of the moderne movement.

Sources

Bhaskaran, L. (2008). Design of the Times.

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing. https://amzn.to/3ElmSlL

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