Art Deco and Art Moderne Architecture
A mix of smooth swirls, curves and high-gloss finishes, art deco style evokes 1930’s movie star glamour.
If you’ve seen Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Shall We Dance, you’re probably well acquainted with art deco style — the swirls and curves, the steps and mirrors, the 1930’s movie-star glam.
The style was partially inspired by artifacts discovered in 1922 in King Tut’s tomb, and many art deco buildings include the repeating designs and vivid color common in Egyptian artwork.
Though it draws heavily from antiquity, art deco was considered ultramodern at the height of its popularity, with some of the first deco designs coming from the edgy Bauhaus School in Germany. The style combines the circular, trapezoidal and rectangular motifs of the Machine Age with the high-gloss finishes and glamorous black-and-white color palette of the silver screen.
Art deco’s appeal began to fade in the 1940’s. However, it enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980’s, when Miami’s South Beach arose from the ashes of neglect to become a colorful art deco vacation paradise, and post-modern architecture around the world re-popularized fanciful touches on building exteriors.
Key Elements are Flat Roofs and Smooth Walls.
The walls of art deco homes are often made of smooth stucco and have rounded corners. Bold exterior decorations. Buildings in the style were often decorated with zigzags, swans, lilies and sunrise motifs. Experimentation with interior materials. Art deco designers used “new” materials such as glass block, neon, chrome, mirrors and opaque glass panels.
Practically Speaking: Hassles and Headaches
Because art deco interior style often includes a lot of mirrors and glass, it may not be the best style for young families or those with exuberant house pets. Also, because original art deco apartments were built before the introduction of many modern conveniences, you may have to consider the cost of re-wiring for electricity and installing air conditioning as in any older apartment. But before you break out the sledgehammers and screwdrivers (or, better yet, before you buy) make sure the building you want to buy in isn’t landmarked; if it is, there may be restrictions on how much of the architecture you can change.
The art deco style was used more often for office buildings than for private homes, so you’re not likely to find a deco home with a yard and a garage in most geographic areas but you may find one for sale on occasion in Phoenix. You can check North Encanto Historic District, Country Club Manor, Coronado District, Encanto-Palmcroft and North Central Phoenix for starters. Scottsdale also has a nice selection of art deco houses and condos. If it’s a condo in a high-rise you’re looking for, look at the wide variety downtown Phoenix.
If you are lucky enough to find a house or a condo with an art deco vibe, don’t fight it! Furnishings strongly associated with other periods will overpower its period charm, so don’t plop your overstuffed shabby chic sofa into the living room. Instead, look for genuine art deco pieces at local antiques stores, or online sources like 1stdibs.com, or purchase quality reproductions at better furniture stores. Don’t want to overdose on deco? Select neutral, modern furnishings and let the architecture speak for itself.
The Luhrs Tower: 49 W. Jefferson St., Finished in 1929, this 15-story building was the tallest in Arizona when it was built. Designed by Trost & Trost of El Paso, it is the closest thing Arizona has to a desert Empire State Building. Notice the windows and doors, and the great classic Deco lettering above the front entrance.
The City-County Building: 125 W. Washington St., When it opened in 1928, the city and Maricopa County shared office space in this incredible Pueblo Deco building, constructed primarily out of terra cotta – that means it’s a pottery building. Look at the eagles on the west facade and the scrolled finials on the roof-line.
Orpheum Theatre: 203 W. Adams St. – The refurbished theater is once more one of the city’s great landmarks. It had been left in a state of neglect and decay, but the remodeling of the original Lescher & Mahoney building by Dijk, Pace and Westlake, finished in 1997, restored the incredible – and often lovingly tacky – details to the venerable theater.
Phoenix Title and Trust Building: 114 W. Adams St., Another Lescher and Mahoney building, the one-time office building is now the Orpheum Lofts residential building. Although fairly plain by Deco standards, if you look closely, there are myriad fine details to tickle the eye.
Winters Building: 39 W. Adams St., This small commercial space from 1931, now home to a classy restaurant, is a beautiful Pueblo Deco, with Native-American inspired etching on black marble around the cornice, and beautiful carving along its columns and mullions.
Professional Building: 15 E. Monroe. The least prepossessing of the Depression-era buildings, it has a rather dull upper story section, but its first two floors are loaded with wonderful detail, including lacy bronze scrollwork over the door and triangular Pueblo Deco lintels over first-floor windows.
Security Building: 234 N. Central Avenue. Don’t miss going in to the foyer of this old-money building and gaze upwards at the ceiling painting. Built in 1928 by Curlett and Beelman, it has a Renaissance tower on its southeast corner and a crudely bland penthouse added in the 1950’s.