Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau: What’s the Difference?

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Although they all start with the word “art," each of these styles has its own distinct look. Let’s look at the differences between Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and the Arts and Crafts style. We’ll include one bonus style at the end, Craftsman.

Art Deco
Art Deco rose to prominence in the 1920s. It celebrated all the incredible achievements happening in the 20th century; the creation of electricity, radio, skyscrapers, and Cubist art to name a few. This style is easy to discern from the others because of its strong geometric focus, sharp angles and zigzag style. Mirrors, black lacquer work, and highly polished metals are hallmarks of this style.

Great examples of Art Deco can be seen in movies like the Great Gatsby, Metropolis, Cabaret, and Chicago. By the 1930s we could see most notably in the Chrysler Building in New York, Art Deco had started to soften its hard, sharp edges and take on a more curved silhouette.

Art Nouveau
In the late 19th century, Art Nouveau was all the rage. Art Nouveau is immediately distinguishable from Art Deco, because of the whiplash curves and ornate nature inspired designs featuring wings, flowers, and vines. One only has to look as far as the art of Toulouse-Lautrec and his advertisements to see the curving lines and beautiful medallions that introduced the “curlicue” style for which Art Nouveau became known. Art Nouveau also branched out into the fine arts, including stained-glass bas relief, crafted wood and meta, in both architecture and interior design.

Arts and Crafts
Arts and Crafts style became popular in the mid-19th century. Handcrafted wood, pottery, and stained-glass were heavily incorporated. Motifs are focused on nature and the land. A great example of this style is the collected designs and patterns of William Morris, still produced and relevant in today’s home décor trends.

The Arts and Crafts style emphasized harmony with nature and a rejection of cookie-cutter, industrialized, mass produced consumer home products. Art Nouveau’s crisp geometry and Art Deco’s curved lines and fluid nature pair well with the straight-line simplicity of Arts and Crafts style.

It’s common for Craftsman and Arts and Crafts styles to be confused, especially at first glance. Craftsman is considered a modified interpretation of Arts and Crafts style. The name comes from a popular magazine published in the early 1900s by Gustaf Stickley called The Craftsman.

Craftsman style pieces, particularly the furniture designed by Stickley and his company, were thicker and larger than furniture of the Arts and Crafts design. Craftsman pieces also lacked the ornamentation of Arts and Crafts style. There were no carvings, inlay curved boards, or any other decorations. Stickley’s later designs evolved over his design career, however, and later productions had more in common with Arts and Crafts sensibilities.

Understanding Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco, not to mention Craftsman style, will allow you to incorporate these design disciplines seamlessly into your home.