03 July 2012

From Deco Cars to Deco Furniture

Streamlining influenced automobile design in the Deco age, and changed the appearance from the old rectangular transporters into sleek vehicles with sweeping lines, symmetry and V-shapes. It didn’t matter that the decorative elements could hardly influence speed and effic­iency; it was enough that these elements suggested speed and effic­iency. Muscular and forceful elements, like high prow hoods, art-deco speed lines for chrome grilles and parallel bar trims were the rage in Deco cars!

Two examples can show us how the exterior and interior of a deco classic appeared Examine the Cadillac Sedanette from the outside, then have a look at the interior. And see the walnut dashboard of the 1938 Bentley

desk, Louro Preto and chestnut burl veneer, Brights of Nettlebed. Date?

I liked the car reviewer who acknowledged that more than exciting dials and switches alone, the dashboard was (and is?) also an important statement of personal style. The best dashboards were works of art where engineering met styling, and fact balanced fantasy. In his 1934 MG PA Midget, for example, the Art Deco dashboard made a pronounced play of MG's famous octagon badge: dials and switches were encased in chunky chromed octagons. And the speedo and rev counter were combined in one delicious looking dial. Can we say boys with their toys?

But not just cars. Soon designers were including speed lines and V shapes in other, totally unrelated objects eg clock faces. Monumental architecture and small art objects alike adopted the use of stepped forms, geometric shapes, chevrons, ziggurats and other motifs of the Art Deco era.

Cadillac Sedanette exterior and dashboard, owned by Cars for Films

Brights of Nettlebed photographed an amazing Louro Preto and chestnut burl veneered pedestal desk, shaped just like a classic car. Coming from Central & South America, especially southern Brasil and Venezuala, Louro Preto veneer was used for interior design, furniture pieces and boat building.

The angled sides encloses a vintage leather inlaid hood with a car clock inset into the dashboard and recesses, above a steel detailed drawer, push action draw­ers with engine turned fronts. Each pedestal has two drawers with steel handles, while the side and front have grille bases. I know the width (212 cm wide) but I wish I knew who the designer was and in which year this amazing desk was made.

If this pedestal desk, by itself, doesn’t inspire memories of the vintage racing era, classical cars and stylish timber dashboards, the collector could simply add a painting of a 1930s car on the nearest wall.

Dashboard of a 1938 Bentley


Glamour Drops said...

Fascinating to see it from a car's perspective. Rather than architecture.

Hels said...

Glamour Drops

Great to hear that.

In almost every art style that I can think of, architecture spread the style from one art medium to another and from one society to another. Consider romanesque, gothic, neo classical, Islamic etc etc.

With Deco, the applied arts did the distributing, not architecture.

Deb said...

My husband, who thinks 1930s cars were speedy and sexy, would love that desk.

P. M. Doolan said...

I'm always amazed at how the shape of cars has changed so drastically, yet at every stage men who like cars can weep for joy at the newest product. It is a special case of the changing perceptions of beauty. As a non-driver I find this particularly fascinating.

Emm said...

My, that Cadillac Sedanette is just exquisite. I could fall in love with a car like that but might personally prefer it in grey.

The desk looks quite imposing. I'm not sure if I could see it as anything but imposing though - I can't imagine studying, working or blogging on it!!

ChrisJ said...

I think I would confine myself to Art Deco jewellery. The desk is stunning but would "work" me rather than the other way round.

the foto fanatic said...

Great car!

Hels said...


"speedy and sexy"... exactly. The desk looks as if it is leaning forward, about to take off :)

Hels said...

Paul and foto fanatic,

I can almost understand adult men weeping for joy at the sight of new cars in the show rooms. So there is a clear gender issue.

But there also is a styling issue. Of all the cars ever designed, streamlined deco cars seem to excite car lovers the most, even 75 years later.

Hels said...


welcome back :)

Deco was largely a surface decoration. A Deco building, for example, was an ordinary building with a plain white rendered facade, and ziggurats on or around the doors.

Where Deco worked superbly was in small items where there was nothing BUT the surface decoration eg small pieces of silver art, porcelain and especially jewellery.

Hels said...


imposing is a good word. I wonder if people were judged by the quality of their library/office in general and of their desk in particular.

artlover15 said...

I love the car clock that was inset into the desk dashboard but I would have liked more chrome, more gizmos and a matching deco chair.

Hels said...


it would seem from what I can find that in the early 1930s and in European cars, dashboard were symmetrical and had few chrome ornaments on the timber. Asymmetry and over-the-top chrome doodads crept in by the end of the 1930s and particularly in the USA.

I wonder if our desk was based more on the Bentley and less on the Cadillac.

Anonymous said...

At a furniture auction a woman said that an old club lounge suite reminded her of an FJ Holden, and I immediately saw what she meant. It was the times, the thinking of those times, the fashion.

Hels said...

Anonymous RH

I know exactly what you mean by the old club lounge suite, Holden and deco. Once you get your eye in, it is possible to pick Deco at 500 ms away, in the dark!

Thank you. I am still fascinated by my newly discovered connection between cars and furniture

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Leon Sims said...

very nice it is too

Hels said...


I always admired Deco but I don't think I realised how influenced it could be by modern cars until I saw your post. I thought it was all ocean liners and streamline trains.