- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

District resident Megan Searing Young’s parents dabbled in antiques, but she gravitated to more modern styles. By modern, she means art deco, a design style from the early 20th century that let America greet the rise of the machines with a shimmer of optimism.

Ms. Young, 32, was drawn to art deco’s clean design, strong angles and balance. She isn’t alone. Ms. Young is a member of the Art Deco Society of Washington, a group that supports and promotes the style.

The art deco movement is said to have kicked off at the 1925 Paris Exhibition of Decorative and Industrial Arts, but its roots likely started years before the event throughout Europe.



Art deco pieces typically feature bold colors, geometric designs and a reliance on glass and plastic materials. The style produced furnishings that evoke a mass-manufactured appearance echoing the machine age. The period peaked before World War II.

Ms. Young, who has a degree in art history from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says she used to buy only authentic art deco pieces for her home. Practical matters forced her to consider alternatives.

“You don’t always have the time to search and search and search,” Ms. Young says. “There’s been a real revived interest in mid-century furnishings,” she says of the period that followed art deco. That trend has bumped out some art deco interests.

“Do you want go to Pottery Barn and find something that resembles the style or be patient … and find the perfect vintage piece?” she says is the question many aficionados ask.

For the serious collectors, couches mark a good dividing point as to how loyal one is to the period, she says. Even an original art deco couch in good condition won’t last long, given its age.

“Some people won’t buy a vintage couch; others would only buy a vintage couch,” she says.

Ms. Young’s living room has a modern couch surrounded by genuine art deco furnishings.

“The rest of the living room is vintage, the lamp, the bar, the coffee tables.”

Jim Linz of Chantilly also opted for a 21st-century couch from which to watch his equally modern television set. The rest of his home harks back to the past.

“Most of my house is art deco,” says the 55-year-old collector. “I’ve got some art deco appliances; I use Harlequin china every day.”

Mr. Linz says part of art deco’s charm is its flexibility.

“It can be blended in virtually any home, particularly for people who collect contemporary furniture,” he says. “My house is a Colonial-style home in the exterior, but the interior is definitely art deco.”

Ms. Young says art deco might seem suited to an older set of collectors, but, she says, many in the art deco society are in their 30s.

“I have encountered some older people who didn’t like the style because it reminds them of hard times,” she says.

And younger art deco fans tend to like not just the furnishings, but the overall culture from the era.

“It’s not a hard and fast rule, [but] there is an aspect of nostalgia,” she says.

The art deco movement also saluted the sunny outlook many had toward technology in the initial stages of the 20th century, she says. People had faith that the new machines could transform society for the better.

Gloria Capron, founder of Gloria Capron Interior Design in Kensington, says art deco “catches the pulse of the young people.”

“It’s definitely on the comeback trail, no doubt about it,” says Ms. Capron, adding that several new design lines in recent weeks have echoed the clean look and sweeping curves of the design movement.

A small but loyal group of homeowners may still pine for art deco designs, but finding the genuine article is getting harder, says Greg Golden, 41, of Silver Spring.

Mr. Golden, a part-time art deco dealer at local shops and sales, says pieces in better condition are truly hard to find.

“Certain collectibles get passed down … like grandfather clocks,” says Mr. Golden, whose home decor is interspersed with traditional furniture and art deco pieces. “A lot of the art deco things are not the type of family heirlooms to be passed down.”

Mr. Linz says those looking to dabble in the period might consider less expensive decor.

“Clocks are an easy and inexpensive accent,” he says. “Some of the best art deco designers worked in designing clocks.”

Howard Decker, chief curator at the National Building Museum, says the period’s increased industrialization had a heavy influence on the movement.

“We could move faster and faster, and more and more things … in our lives were made by machines,” Mr. Decker says. “[Art deco pieces] employed the latest materials and technologies.

“The movement could be seen in architecture, industrial design, clothing, furnishings and graphic design,” he says.

While other nations dabbled in art deco, its impact was much stronger in the United States, where industrialization had the strongest pull, he adds. Locally, the art deco spirit is alive in the architecture of the refurbished AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring and the defunct Bethesda Theater on Wisconsin Avenue.

“It’s all about trying to figure out how to make beautiful things that take advantage of the latest material,” he says. “In the ‘30s, we were starting to see all kinds of new materials,” he says. “Plastics hadn’t been seen before.”

Travis Smith, owner of Good Eye 20th Century Interiors in Friendship Heights, says the bulk of his clients favor an eclectic home furnishing style as opposed to strictly art deco.

“Deco peaked about 10 years ago. The die-hard collectors bought it then,” Mr. Smith says.

That doesn’t mean a market doesn’t continue for the movement.

“You could use a deco dresser or armoire as a living room piece,” he says.

Homeowners looking to add some art deco flourishes to their home have plenty of options. There’s always EBay, the Web site where online traders buy and sell goods, including home furnishings. Mr. Linz says new collectors can find reasonably priced items such as stylish candy dishes and kitchen appliances on EBay.

He also visits flea markets for potential home furnishings, particularly Eastern Market in the District.

Mr. Decker says such contemporary stores as Target offer some home furnishings that reflect the movement, particularly items with heavy plastic accents.

For more information about the art deco design style, visit www.adsw.org.

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