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Art Deco or Art Nouveau?

January 25, 2012 11 Comments by Peggy Pardo

Way back in the early years when my decorating gene was still quite dormant (my fashion gene was too busy running things), if you asked me the difference between art nouveau and art deco I probably would have told you I didn’t know anyone named Art. Then I got my first apartment…and discovered the joy of interior design.

Fast forward a few years and my interest in design turned into a passion. However, identifying these two styles was still confusing to me. It wasn’t until I began studying interior design that I actually learned what each one was all about (we didn’t have google back then, bummer).

So today for anyone that is as confused as I once was regarding the difference between art deco and art nouveau, I hope to make it a little clearer for you.

Art nouveau came first. The term in French means “new art” It began appearing in the early 1880′s and lasted until about the beginning of World War I. Whereas previously art had been divided into fine art (painting and sculpture) and applied art (furniture, pottery and such useful items), this “new art” (art nouveau) encompassed all forms of art and design including architecture, furniture, textiles, pottery, paintings, sculpture, metalwork and even jewelry.

Art nouveau combines geometric shapes with themes from nature like insects, plants, flowers, trees and sometimes mythical fairies. Up until the period of art nouveau, these natural forms were not popular. The design is also often characterized by its organic, fluid, asymmetrical curves.

Art deco emerged after World War I; a time when the world was ready for luxury and extravagance. It was prevalent during the 1920’s and 1930’s, until around the beginning of World War II.

Though art deco utilizes geometric shapes too, they are more linear, streamlined, repetitive and symmetrical. Sunburst and zigzags are two common shapes featured in art deco designs. When including natural forms, they tend to be more graphic and textural like the rough edges of a plant’s leaves or a zebra’s hide. Art deco is also recognized for its use of modern materials like chrome, wood inlays and stainless steel.


  • Art nouveau is decorative, ornamental, “curvy” and asymmetrical
  • Art deco is sleek, streamlined, linear and symmetrical

I love visual aides. So, here are some pictures to help illustrate the differences.

Art Nouveau Deco and Art Deco Artwork

Artwork Source: Art Nouveau -, Art Deco – Wikipedia

Chrysler Building Spire and the Eiffel Tower

Photo Source: Art Nouveau Eiffel Tower – Wikipedia, Art Deco Chrysler Building – Wikipedia

Art Nouveau Deco and Art Deco Doors

Source: Art Nouveau Doors – Potter Art Metal, Art Deco Doors – Art Deco Collection

Art Nouveau Deco and Art Deco Lamps

Source: Art Nouveau Lamp - Allentown Art Museum, Art Deco Lamp – Table Lamps Lighting

Hope this helped you more easily recognize the differences between art nouveau and art deco. They are both amazing styles to work with. Have you worked with either art nouveau or art deco in something you’ve designed or created? If so, do share!!

Cheers to all,
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  1. petra voegtle
    1058 days ago

    Hi Peggy,
    very nice post on the two art decor styles. I love both directions very much as eyecatchers. I think in modern times these should be used with great intelligence otherwise the impact would be “overload”.
    Greetings, Petra

  2. mbwife
    1058 days ago

    Nice examples! Art Nouveau is overlooked. I worked with a guy who had done his whole house in that style. The modern take on it was interesting, very sinuous and not at all overblown. He left lots of empty space, which allowed you to appreciate the style without feeling like you were trapped in a 60s head shop.

  3. Theresa Cheek
    1058 days ago

    VERY nice summation and the photos are spot on! I love the Tour Eiffel against the Chrysler building.

  4. Peggy Pardo
    1058 days ago

    I’m glad you both enjoyed the post! I agree that with these styles, a little can go a long way. When done with the right touch, though, they can have quite an impact.

  5. Peggy Pardo
    1058 days ago

    Theresa, your comment came in just as I was responding to the others. I think putting the two structures next to each other really helps to illustrate the differences in the styles. Thank you for your comments!

  6. David
    636 days ago

    Thank you a concise and very easy to understand primer on the two styles and their differences. I am helping my daughter with her mother’s estate. Hew Mom was a lifelong fanatical collector of antiquities and objets d’art in so many areas – glass, china, pottery, sculpture, art, art prints, furnitire, lamps, etc. Your simple guide and good choice of visual aids to consistently demonstrate the nuances of each style will be helpful to me in my efforts. Thanks again

  7. christine
    533 days ago

    I always love Deco.

  8. Julie Stonehouse
    396 days ago

    Thank you! Just had a discussion about this with my boyfriend and couldn’t spell out the differences for him.

3 Trackbacks

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