Recognizing 'Artsy' Houses

Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and other 'Artsy' styles will tempt potential buyers.

September 1, 2004

Any home that's beautifully designed or creatively decorated may be called "artistic.' However, the word "art' takes on added meaning when associated with architecture and interior decor. Phrases like Art Nouveau and Art Deco describe movements, or approaches to design, that became popular in the early twentieth century and helped shape the types of houses we build today.

Although the names are similar, each "artsy' style has a distinct look and feel—and a very special appeal for your prospective buyers.

Arts and Crafts

In 19th century England, a group of artisans wanted to revive building methods used in days gone by. Calling themselves "Arts and Crafts' designers, they rejected mass-produced, machine-made materials in favor of wooden construction and hand craftsmanship.

As it spread to the United States, the movement influenced important designers like Frank Lloyd Wright and the furniture maker Gustav Stickley.

In his magazine The Craftsman, Stickley encouraged Americans to build houses that were "based upon the simplest and most direct principles of construction.'

This appreciation for simple handicrafts found expression in several comfortable and inviting house styles, most notably the Craftsman Bungalow, the Prairie Style, and various Spanish styles.

To recognize Arts and Crafts styling, look for:

  • Wide eave overhangs
  • Exposed rafters and wooden brackets
  • Rustic siding materials such as stone, stucco, and cedar shingles
  • Built-in cabinets, bookshelves, and window seats
  • Oak wainscoting, moldings, and beams

Art Nouveau

Arts and Crafts ideas also inspired European designers, who gave the movement a different spin. Illustrators, fashion designers, jewelry makers, and other artisans wanted to elevate handicrafts to the level of fine arts like painting and sculpture. They also wanted to create a free-form style that was completely new, without imitating the past. Known as Art Nouveau, or "new art,' this movement featured sweeping curves and stylized shapes drawn from nature.

In the United States, Art Nouveau played an important role in interior decoration. The famous stained glass designer Louis C. Tiffany was an enthusiastic proponent of the style. Other designers used graceful Art Nouveau patterns for wallpaper and textiles. These motifs are often found in Craftsman Bungalows and other Arts and Crafts homes.

To recognize Art Nouveau styling, look for:

  • Frosted glass lamp shades shaped like drooping flowers
  • Metalwork in the form of trailing vines
  • Swooping flower and foliage motifs on fabrics and wallpapers
  • Stained glass with swirling floral patterns
  • Scrolls, leaves, shells, and flowing, asymmetrical curves carved or embossed on moldings, sconces, and banisters
  • Stylized foliage painted or embossed on ceramic tiles

View pictures of Art Nouveau at

Art Deco

Many people confuse the terms Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Both movements originated in Europe and both are distinguished by stylized designs. However, Art Nouveau emphasized graceful shapes drawn from nature, while Art Deco celebrated the machine age with bold geometric patterns. Gaining momentum during the 1920s, this jazzy style encouraged the use of metals, plastics, and other machine-made materials.

Art Deco styling was mainly used on commercial properties like New York's Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. Miami is especially well known for its Art Deco hotels and apartment buildings. However, Art Deco details are

sometimes found in smaller single-family homes.

To recognize Art Deco styling, look for:

  • Smooth stucco walls, which may be brightly colored
  • Square towers or parapets
  • Geometric designs such as zigzags, chevrons, diamonds, and sunbursts
  • Painted or relief designs arranged in horizontal bands, usually near the roofline

Art Moderne

Constructed in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, houses in the Art Moderne style may appear futuristic even today. Resembling Art Deco without the decorative motifs, these streamlined homes often incorporate high-tech materials, such as polished aluminum, stainless steel, and plastics. Although not quite as stark as the later Bauhaus, or International Style, Art Moderne paved the way for extreme simplicity in home design.

To recognize Art Moderne styling, look for:

  • Exterior walls finished with glazed stucco or other smooth materials
  • Curved corners
  • Glass block windows
  • Round "porthole' windows
  • Flat roofs

Show Buyers ‘Artsy' Details

Art is never rigid or fixed. As you examine your listings, you may find a twentieth century home that clearly belongs to one of these movements. Or, you may discover just a few "artsy' features combined with other, unrelated styles. Look closely and point out your observations. Even the smallest details may be enough to entice prospective buyers.


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