Art Deco at The Savoy

Alyson Jackson writes the silk route blog:

Savoy Hotel: Savoy Court Entrance The Strand, London, WC2. Architect: Howard Robertson, 1930. Reopened 10th October 2010 after extensive refurbishment, the hotel has 94 art deco style rooms ad 174 Edwardian. The famous polished steel sign was protected during the renovations. The new art deco style glass fountain in the Savoy Court entrance was commissioned from Lalique. The entrance to the Art Deco Savoy Theatre is also here on the right hand side. The Savoy cocktail book of 1930 is classic art deco design.

A style developed between the wars which seemed to reflect the mood of the times: a new beginning, simplicity, brightness and confidence in the future.

The name derives from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes in Paris. Here was a new coherence of sleek design encompassing not just architecture but fittings such as lighting and handrails, fabrics and furnishings.

The look was characterised on the one hand by geometrical shapes, inspired by cubism, where features were reduced to minimal shapes such as the stepped ziggurat which lends itself to stepped rooflines and decorative features. Often a vertical strip of glass will be used in place of separate windows, especially in stairwells, to simplify the appearance.

The Streamline Moderne version of art deco was epitomised in car design as a visual representation of speed; akin to the cubism-inspired geometric art deco but with curves rather than angles, and a studied simplicity: sleek and aerodynamic without unnecessary ornamentation.

In November 1922, Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of Kings in Egypt. It fired the public imagination and art deco buildings sometimes based their whole look on an  Egyptian temple. This was visually different from the cubism-inspired geometrical art deco but is no less characteristic of the times.

The simplicity of much of the architectural design was echoed in the favoured colour schemes: high contrast often with silver-toned highlights or vibrant primary contrasting colours such as green and orange. The use of chrome and large expanses of black was particularly effective in Streamline Moderne.

A bold style, impossible to ignore; optimistic, forward-looking, modern – a break from florid art nouveau and the strictures of Victorian revivalist architecture. This was a true new look to suit the new age of optimism. Though bright, the colourful schemes were never overpowering, being symmetrically employed and often on large expanses of white stone. Other common features are stone or metal bas reliefs, stepped columns, window and door embrasures, and decorative iron work in gates and fences was also often used – variations on the stylised sunburst and cloud were popular.”

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