If you’re tired of tapestries, taxidermy and other crafty kitsch that have taken over mass retail, you’re not alone. The defining design trend of the past five years — a feminine mix of California bohemian and mid-century modern that’s ubiquitous on blogs and Instagram — may have crested.
“It’s everywhere. It’s too everywhere,” Bethesda designer Marika Meyer says. “We’re about to see a call for the masculine again, for something more structural and modern.”
What fits the bill? One theory is art deco, a style characterized by geometric shapes, strong arches and angles, and high-contrast color schemes. It first became popular after World War I and was a reaction to art nouveau’s whimsical ornamentation and floral motifs. Deco, which conveyed strength and industry, was seen as glamorous and bold.
“If you think about what’s going on in our country politically, it makes sense that we’re seeing it come back,” Meyer said. “A sense of uncertainty tends to drive people to seek structure and stability. Art deco has that.”
The style will have modern adaptations. Expect its signature sense of opulence — often evoked in sweeping marble staircases, pinstriped wallpapers and high-gloss paints — to be toned down in favor of high-tech or sustainable materials. And too much of one look can feel catalogue or thematic, so designers predict people will stick to a few key pieces.
“Focus on the smaller moments, like a cocktail table or a tray,” advised Mat Sanders, who runs the Los Angeles-based Consort Design with Brandon Quattrone and counts Jimmy Kimmel and Jessica Alba as clients. “These pieces are like jewelry for a room and the easiest way to make a statement. No need to overdo it.”
Even in small doses, though, it’s important not to confuse boldness with flash. Tim Barber, a Los Angeles architect who specializes in art deco (he’s perhaps best known for helping Moby renovate a 1920s castle in the Hollywood Hills), said the style is often misunderstood as luxe or over the top.
“It’s under the top,” he said. “It’s about scale and exaggerated forms. You’d be surprised at how much drama you can achieve just by playing with proportions.”
Art deco posits that there’s power in the unexpected. A low coffee table, such as West Elm’s Metal Drum Coffee Table ($399, westelm.com), can make a neutral room feel artistic and modern. A black steel table with strong angles ($425, consort-design.com) looks confident against a white wall. For added visual interest, consider a mirror so tall it almost touches the ceiling ($372, bedbathandbeyond.com) or a club chair that curves like a shell. Of course, antiques stores are gold mines for authentic treasures if you’re willing to pay big bucks.
If you aren’t ready to invest in larger pieces, try playing with patterns and textures. High-contrast ceramic tiles liven up a kitchen backsplash or bathroom floor, and unusual fabrics such as velvet or mohair spice up canvas sofas and chairs.
Wallpaper is an opportunity to experiment with classic deco motifs, such as fans and sunbursts, and to add a hint of glamour. Meyer recently designed a powder room in a Maryland farmhouse for a client who wanted a blend of deco and Moroccan. She used a metallic pearl wallpaper called Lantern from Clarence House that was subtle and sleek.
Art deco’s biggest hurdle may be that it doesn’t have enough hard guidelines or rules to follow. There’s no catalogue to pull from or uniform to fall back on, and lots of room for interpretation.
“There’s definitely a challenge to it,” Meyer said, “but I think we’re ready for that.”