1930s Furniture: History & Styles

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

How does furniture reflect a modern age? Have you ever seen a chair or sofa shaped like a torpedo? In this lesson, explore furniture of the 1930s, its history, and some popular styles.

Furniture in the 1930s

The decade of the 1930s was a time of transition. The Roaring Twenties had ended and the Great Depression was making life challenging for many people. But advances in industries, technology, and mass production also meant household goods were available at a lower cost to more and more people. A person didn't have to be wealthy to own objects that featured the latest styles, including 1930s furniture.

In terms of furniture, objects made in the 1930s reflect several design trends that began in the 1920s. They also reflect the Industrial Age, when objects could be mass-produced and manufactured using cost-saving processes. For example, many pieces of furniture were decorated through the use of thin veneers, which are layers of exotic hardwoods. The surface might be a beautiful mahogany or stunning tiger maple, but the wood underneath was of lesser quality, which meant the piece cost less than one made completely of expensive hardwood. Science and technology in the 1930s and discoveries related to ideas like aerodynamics also impacted furniture design.

Let's look at two prominent furniture styles of the 1930s, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne, and learn about their distinct characteristics.

1930s Furniture Styles: Art Deco

In the early 1930s, Art Deco was the most prominent furniture style. Art Deco started in France around 1925 and it celebrated the modern world through furniture, art, and architecture. Furniture featured veneers of mahogany and macassar ebony. Designers like Frenchman Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann created spectacular examples of Art Deco furniture with sleek surfaces and curving lines. Designers also used bold contrasting colors like gold, black, and silver and incorporated modern materials like glass, chrome, and Bakelite, a type of plastic.

Example of an interior with Art Deco furniture. Notice the geometric shapes and bold black and white color contrast.
Art Deco furniture

Art Deco furniture was very rectilinear meaning it emphasized geometric and vertical lines. Designs often included repeating patterns of shapes like zigzags, sunbursts, and chevrons. Sometimes it echoed Egyptian influence in very stylized versions of lotus flowers and scarab beetles.

Example of an Art Deco firescreen, 1930, with geometric design emphasis.
Art Deco Firescreen

1930s Furniture Styles: Streamline Moderne

In the second half of the 1930s, a new style called Streamline Moderne (you'll sometimes also see it called Streamlined or Modern) developed in the United States. Even more than Art Deco, Streamlined Moderne reflected the machine age and strongly echoed industrial products and surfaces. It was influenced by scientific theories related to aviation and ballistics (yes, bullets), and emphasized a specific shape, rounded corners that looked like squat teardrops or torpedoes. Streamline Moderne furniture tended to be symmetrical and often resembled machines like planes or cars.

The same science that impacted the style of automobiles, like this 1935 Bugatti, also impacted the development of Streamline Moderne.
automobile from 1935

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