A creative but short-lived movement, Art Deco not only influenced the architecture of most American cities but had an impact on fashion, art, and furniture, too. From 1925 to 1940, Americans embraced Art Deco as a refreshing change from the eclectic and revivalist sensibilities that preceded it. The style takes its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs held in Paris in 1925 as a showcase for new inspiration. The style was essentially one of applied decoration. Buildings were richly embellished with hard-edged, low-relief designs: geometric shapes, including chevrons and ziggurats; and stylized floral and sunrise patterns. Shapes and decorations inspired by Native American artwork were among the archetypes of the Art Deco lexicon.
Although some buildings utilized expensive hand-crafted decoration, others made do with machine-made repetitive decorations. To keep costs down, ornamental treatment was often limited to the most visible parts of the building. Art Deco projects produced dynamic collaborations between architects, painters, sculptors, and designers—sometimes resulting in complete Art Deco environments like Old Miami Beach, Florida. In its day, some of what we now refer to as Art Deco wasoften called Moderne, or Art Moderne, a term used to describe the most advanced design ideas of the 1930s through to the end of World War II. Being close cousins, Art Deco and Art Moderne shared stripped-down forms. But Art Moderne had a horizontal rather than vertical emphasis, rounded rather than angular corners, and little surface ornamentation. Art Deco was first applied to public and commercial buildings in the 1920s. Although individual homes were rarely designed in the Art Deco style, architects and developers, especially in Greater Washington, DC, found that the style adapted quite well to apartment buildings. Most of these buildings are still in use, a testament to the city’s richly varied architectural history.