Art Nouveau - the first modern style?

The Art Nouveau style began in the last decade of the 19th century.

People were afraid that industrialization would overcome the work of the true artist. The Arts and Crafts movement tried to show the value of natural forms and the value of handcrafted articles.

At the same time, the Victorian style was becoming excessively heavy. Rooms were dark with lots of drapes, and filled with every conceivable item. The reaction to this was to fill rooms with light, and do away with all the clutter.

Influential people

The style was influenced by people such as Frank Lloyd Wright in America, Charles Mackintosh in Scotland and William Morris in England. Shape and form were very important, because with fewer objects in the room and simpler backgrounds, each object became more significant.

The curved form of natural objects was offset against strong vertical and horizontal lines.

Although a number of buildings were designed in this style, it’s main effect was in the interiors of existing buildings and homes.

One thing you'll often notice in a room decorated in this style is the use of stylized flowers, leaves and stems. Printed wallpaper, which was now much cheaper because of the use of mass production, frequently made use of this type of decoration.


Fundamental changes in color

The style led the way in making rooms lighter and less cluttered. New paint colors were being developed, which were paler than normal and made rooms appear light and airy.

The classical way of separating walls spaces by the use of picture rails and chair rails (dado rails) was not always used. Picture rails were not completely banished, but often the wallpaper itself was used to give some variation.

Unique features

Another feature was the use of stained glass. The designs used for this where often geometric patterns or stylized botanical subjects. Area rugs went out of fashion, and were replaced with faded oriental carpets. Wood floor boards were polished, in keeping with the idea of natural finishes.

Soft furnishings played down

The reaction to the heavily draped windows and deep buttoned upholstery of the late Victorian style was evident in soft furnishings.

People wanted simple furnishings, and concentrated on the windows themselves rather than the fabric around them. They draped lengths of fabric over plain poles, or used straight cornice boxes (pelmets) of very simple designs. Because vertical straight lines were all the rage, curtains were allowed to hang straight down, unhindered by any form of tie back.

Natural and simple furniture

Furniture was now constructed of oak or satin wood, in preference to the mahogany of earlier years. Again, because an emphasis was placed on natural finishes, the grain of the wood was allowed to show to its best advantage. The only decorations used were inlays and carvings, often taking their cue from other pattern ideas in the room.

The most famous name of all!

As regards lighting, who hasn't heard of the Tiffany lamp? These were developed by the American L.C.Tiffany. It is not often realized that he also designed whole houses, not just lamps! The lamps used colored and leaded glass for the shade and sometimes the stem.

An undemanding style

Some furnishings styles can be difficult to implement, but Art Nouveau lends itself to all types of interiors.

You can easily imitate the style yourself by collecting period items and placing them against plain walls. One simple way is to obtain a suitable fireplace. These were often made of cast iron, wood, or copper, and had stylized floral and geometric designs.

The Art Nouveau style emphasized restraint, and far fewer ornaments were on display. Preferred materials for display items were glass, silver, copper, ceramic and pewter.

The floor

Lift up your carpet and see if you have timber floor boards. It doesn't matter if they are planks or tiles, just wax or stain them, and then use an oriental rug. This will give the right effect for the period.


The Art Nouveau style is relatively new, and you can still pick up examples of the furniture from various sales and auctions. You will also find that modern furniture makers still produce furniture of this type.

Although it can be quite expensive, you can buy stained glass with Art Nouveau designs and replace your plain windows. Mirrors of the period are also quite distinctive.


If you really must have curtains in your room, make sure they are simple.

You can buy Art Nouveau design materials, and hang these from wooden poles, or from track which is covered by a simple cornice box (pelmet). Another way is to obtain some plain fabrics, such as silk, and paint Art Nouveau designs on them yourself.


Reproduction lighting is readily available from many stores. You'll also find that Tiffany lamps are as popular as ever. You can easily adapt your existing lamps by painting typical designs on them.


These can be great fun to collect. If you want to buy originals, you'll find they are quite pricey. But don't let this deter you. You'll find many suitable objects at auctions and sale rooms, such as mirrors, lamps, picture frames and metalwork items.

The style uses a much lighter palette than that of the Victorian style which preceded it. Shades of white may not sound very interesting, but the idea is to use them as a background for other items in the room.

But they didn't only use white, and in time other pastel shades became popular. Lilac was a particular favorite, and salmon pink and green were also used. Black was used in a very restrained way. You'll often find that Mackintosh style furniture was painted black, and this contrasted well with the white used for most of the woodwork.

Art Nouveau colors


Click here to go to the next page in this section - Art Deco


There's a great product called Cheat Sheets, which allows you quick access to colors which work for home decorating.

The Shortcut to Perfect Paint Colors - Paint Color Cheat Sheets

(Only for residents of the USA or Canada.)



Return to Paint Color

Return to Home Page