To see the year's blockbuster design shows, start with a pocketful of frequent-flier miles and plenty of wanderlust.

The most influential exhibition of 2003 surely will be the Victoria and Albert Museum's "Art Deco 1910-1939," which runs from March 27 to July 20 in London. A sequel to the magnificent "Art Nouveau: 1890-1914," which traveled to the National Gallery of Art in 2000, this follow-up is meant to be equally comprehensive and even more glamorous.

Art deco had a sexy, elegant run through the first half of the 20th century, influencing the look of cities from Paris to New York to Shanghai. Known for angles as well as streamlined curves, and influenced by industrial machines as well as ancient Egypt, art deco enlivened the look of skyscrapers, cars, trains, ocean liners, Hollywood film sets, interior furnishings and fashion.

The deco craze has been dismissed by many as a frivolous fashion enjoyed by a world wallowing in hedonism. The V&A seeks to recast art deco as a reflection of societal values and a human need for fantasy and fun. For ammunition, the museum is assembling 300 works of art, architecture, furniture, textiles, glass, metal, jewelry, graphic art, product design, fashion, film and photography. Among the highlights are art by Fernand Leger, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, and Constantin Brancusi; fashion by Lanvin, Chanel and Schiaparelli; an interior by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann for the seminal 1925 Paris "arts decoratifs" exposition; and a reconstruction of the 1930 foyer of London's Strand Palace Hotel.

Unfortunately, "Art Deco" will bypass Washington in favor of Toronto, San Francisco and Boston. Four books will be published in connection with the exhibition, so there's no need to miss out. "Art Deco Textiles" (Harry N. Abrams), "Art Deco Fashion" and "Essential Art Deco" (both from Bulfinch Press) will be out this spring. For the 400-plus-page catalogue, die-hards must travel to London or wait until fall, when Bulfinch will release the tome in North America.

For a critical view of contemporary design, the National Design Triennial at the Smithsonian's Cooper- Hewitt National Design Museum in New York is the year's must-see.

Second in a series of authoritative surveys, the Triennial will showcase 80 designers and companies, both emerging and established. Recent work has been arranged in six amorphous categories involving domesticity, mobility, ornament, entrepreneurial production (as opposed to industrial), functional technology and "new kinds of science." Four curators have selected several hundred objects, models, photographs, films and renderings to illuminate the full range of design today.

The show, which runs April 27 to Aug. 3, will occupy two floors of the museum. The catalogue, "Inside Design Now," is being published by Princeton Architectural Press. A cutout cover featuring sharks could make the book a collectible in its own right.

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is also laying claim to the cutting edge in 2003. The museum, which has an excellent record of contemporary design consciousness, is staging an ambitious and intriguing summer show called "Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life."

Beginning June 7, works from an international circle at the edge of the avant-garde will be assembled. Participating designers include Jurgen Bey, Boym Partners, Do Create, LOT/EK, MVRDV, Shigeru Ban and Shigeru Uchida, Paolo Ulian and Marcel Wanders. Some designs, such as Ban's Paperlog House Shelter and Bey's shrink-wrapped Kokon Chair for Droog Design, are established icons from the 1990s. The museum also commissioned a prototype "Modular Dwelling Unit" from the architects known as LOT/EK. It will be their first attempt at transforming a steel cargo container into a human habitat.

"Strangely Familiar" suggests that ordinary surroundings are being transformed into a more fantastic world through design.

Nothing could be more clear from the items scheduled for display. A visit to Minneapolis invites further reflection on whether strange objects can change our behavior.

Even without leaving town, Washingtonians will find ample occasion to celebrate the power of design. Hillwood's spectacular year-long homage to the czars will re-create the glitter of imperial St. Petersburg through finely crafted objects. And the National Building Museum's exhibition "Saving Mount Vernon," which opens Feb. 15, will salute historic preservation across the country.

Small can also be beautiful. The Italian Cultural Institute will transport the whimsical, trompe l'oeil world of 20th-century designer Piero Fornasetti all the way from Milan. Slightly surreal, and highly collectible, Fornasetti's furnishings and objects are decorated with the facades of classical buildings, a dazzling sun or the mysterious face of a woman. On display for a month beginning March 19, "Fornasetti: La Follia Pratica" promises to be a rare jewel.

Best of all, it's here.

The home of George Washington (shown in 1858) is the focus of a National Building Museum show on historic preservation, opening Feb. 15.Resin chairs by Gaetano Pesce, part of the the National Design Triennial in New York."Art Deco 1910-1939" includes Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann's 1925 dressing table.Piero Fornasetti's "Viso Con Capitello," part of a look at the designer's work at the Italian Cultural Institute beginning March 19.