Styles in Art and Design

Arts & Crafts wallpaper pattern

A style is like handwriting, it is unique. Each style has a defining set of features. When we look at any product, we can identify its style, and that allows us to unlock a lot of useful and cool information about the item. Some styles are well known and popular, Art Deco for example, others are relatively obscure. Often old styles become popular again — that’s called fashion.

Here are the styles we encounter on a daily basis.

Aesthetic Movement — Aesthetic style was very popular in the 1870s and 1880s. The homewares in Aesthetic fashion were elegantly designed and useful; the decoration had to be elegant, tasteful and not garish, hence the aesthetic name of the style. Design elements were inspired by the imports of ceramics, lacquer furniture and fabrics from the Far East, especially Japan.

Art Deco — this was the dominant style in the 1920s, 30s and the early 40s, and it is still widely accepted today. It originated in France, and is short for Arts Decoratifs, inspired by the 1925 Paris world fair “International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts”. The style was dominant in architecture and in everyday design, including homewares and home decorations. Most Art Deco products often bear geometric decoration, inspired by the machinery and industrial advances of the period. Floral elements are usually stylised and the colours are bold. This is one of the mostly recognisable and popular styles in design and in home décor.

Art Nouveau — this was a major international style dominating the art, architecture and design between about 1890 and the mid-1910s. It took its inspiration from the nature and used the flowing shapes of flowers, trees, birds, animals and insects as design elements. Products made in the Art Nouveau style are extremely elegant and easily recognisable. Even the simple everyday items look like works of art.

Arts & Crafts — this was a significant international movement in design and one of the major inspirations for the later Mid-Century Modern fashion. It started in Victorian Britain in the 1860s, and came as a reaction to the industrialisation and mass production. The style was about the simple and the functional, high quality and skilfully produced homewares and furniture, using natural materials. Many products created in the Arts & Crafts style are recognisable for their superb quality and simplicity of design. They make use of natural inspired elements and shapes in decoration, and above all, they are highly functional. This all gives Arts & Crafts products a timeless appeal, that is why so many of them are still being used today. British designers William Morris and Dr Christopher Dresser are the icons of Arts & Crafts style.

Biedermeier — we use this term while describing a Central European furniture style. It is closely associated with the Late Georgian Neoclassical style in Britain. But broadly speaking, Biedermeier refers to the Central European fashion of the first half of the 19th century, specifically 1815-1848.

Chinoiserie — this means “made in the Chinese style”. Chinoiserie primarily describes European furniture and decorative arts from the mid 18th century onward, imitating Chinese and Japanese designs.

Edwardian style — although the Edwardian period was short, lasting between 1901 and 1910, it oversaw two major styles — Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. Traditionally, most Edwardian items, including furniture and homewares, are elegant both in design and in decoration, well constructed and very functional. Good and tasteful design was much admired. So it is easy to see why Edwardian period products are still popular.

Egyptian Revival — step into the time of fabulous archaeological discoveries in Egypt. This style had been fashionable on and off for more than 100 years, mainly in decorative arts. It used elements inspired by the ancient Egyptian culture. It started around the 1800s with the campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt, and culminated with the discovery of the fabulous treasures of king Tut in 1922. The most popular decorative elements used in Egyptian Revival are lotus flowers, plants and papyrus columns, as well as sphinxes, pharaoh masks and animals. Some items, furniture for example, were completely copied from ancient Egypt.

Famille Noir — Chinese black decorated porcelain. It is part of a group of ceramics decorated with enamel colours where black is the predominant palette. Famille Noire was a popular export ware from China to the West.

Famille Rose — Chinese pink decorated porcelain. It is part of a group of ceramics decorated with enamel colours where pink is the predominant palette. Famille Rose was a popular export ware between the 17 and the 19th centuries from China to the West.

Famille Verte — Chinese green decorated porcelain. It is part of a group of ceramics decorated with enamel colours where green is the predominant palette. Famille Verte was a popular export ware in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries from China to the West.

Folk Art — this is a general term for traditional, homemade household items and furniture. There is no particular style to them, but rather Folk Art picks up basic decorative elements prevalent in the fashion of the time.

Georgian style — named after a long British Georgian period, the style mainly refers to the second half of the 18th century and up to the 1820s. It was predominantly Neoclassical in fashion, looked back for inspiration at the ancient Greece and Rome and used those elements in design and decoration. Most Georgian items have straight and very clean lines with elegant repetitive floral patterns.

Gothic Revival — a design fashion popular in the first half of the 19th century, especially in Britain. In homeware design, furniture and architecture Gothic Revival style used decorative elements and proportions inspired by the original European Gothic architecture of the 12th-16th centuries. Augustus W.N. Pugin was the main figure in the British Gothic Revival movement.

High Victorian — products made in the traditional Victorian style are often recognisable because of their lavish decoration. The design mixes various sources of inspiration, but it is mostly recognised for its rich floral ornaments, scrolls and foliage, often applied very lavishly over the item.

Imari — a style of Japanese ceramics painted predominantly in the shades of blue and red with bold floral designs. Imari ceramics were very popular in the West and were eventually imitated in China for export. Because of that there is typically a lot of confusion between the two and these wares are often incorrectly described.

Kutani — this is a type of Japanese traditional porcelain. We mainly refer to Saiko-Kutani, a 19th century export ware to the West. Those Kutani ceramics were decorated in various colours with ornaments, floral and figurative motifs.

Mid-Century Modern— homeware products were made to be as useful as possible, with clear lines and simple design. Decoration was minimal and based on colours and elegant curving lines, reflecting the new techniques of mass production. Many household products were manufactured using new and unexpected materials — chrome, nickel, aluminium and plastic as well as plywood for furniture. Such materials enabled designers to create new shapes and were easy to produce on an industrial scale.

Modernist style — homewares in the period between 1950s to 1970s often followed a Modernist style. Defined by neat lines, bold and unusual colours and fairly minimalist shapes. All this often makes Modernist items very functional and timeless. Modernism was a natural continuation of Mid-Century Modern fashion, but it is bolder, bigger and brighter.

Neoclassical style looks back at and takes its design inspiration from ancient Greece and Rome, and uses those elements in decoration. Most neo-classical items are defined by straight and clean lines, elegant repetitive floral patterns, floral garlands and gadrooning.

Retro — some items are inspired by an earlier style or even by several styles. It is also possible that the item simply uses an old and well established pattern that defies style. So in that case they are called Retro or Traditional. You would find such products usually from the 1930s onward but the majority of Retro is from the 1980s and later.

Satsuma — this is a type of Japanese pottery from the Satsuma province. We refer to the Satsuma export ware to the West — these were ceramics with bright enamel decoration on a cream coloured background, often with a lavish use of gilding.

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