Last month while on my way to Yoga class with a friend, I stumbled upon an absolute architectural gem in the heart of Old Town Pasadena. Heading into the basement of a multi-story building on Colorado Boulevard, I first noticed the beautiful, ornately-carved, oversized solid wood doors of the ladies powder room. As we made our way to class, I saw a placard with the building’s name, which read: “The Fish Building, 26 E. Colorado Blvd.” We were 20 minutes early to class, so I chatted up the staff commenting on the lovely Art Nouveau style of the building.

“Take them up in the elevator,” our yoga teacher instructed the receptionist at the front desk. My ears perked up immediately and my heart almost skipped a beat. What’s in the elevator? I wondered with anticipation. I had a feeling I was in for a treat.

As the receptionist dug up the key to the antiquated lift, she informed us only residents of the building were allowed to use it. Now my curiosity was piqued! As the three of us stepped into the mirrored cube, I almost fainted with elation. I had never been so close to original, hand-crafted, Art Deco architectural details before. The reflective walls of the elevator were framed by swirling, honey-colored shapes made of solid wood (typical of Art Nouveau), and there was a patterned wood medallion (also known as parquet) inlay at the center of the floor. No detail was overlooked, as this is one of the foremost characteristics of the period.

(As a side note, I use Art Deco and Art Nouveau interchangeably when describing this building because the details reflect influences of both movements.) The curved, organic lines are from the earlier period, Art Nouveau, while the geometric shapes, chevrons and color schemes are from the latter Art Deco. The Fish Building in Pasadena was completed in 1929 and therefore falls squarely into the Art Deco period; however, the Art Nouveau details in the building are unmistakable.

It’s important to remember the ethos of these aesthetic movements and their relationship to the social and artistic climate at the time. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the Art Nouveau movement was a reaction against the preceding (and rather stuffy) Victorian era. Art Nouveau cultivated a close relationship with the fine arts, incorporating hand painting and sculpture into the architecture and interior design. Nature was the dominant theme, and therefore curvilinear forms reigned supreme.

Fast forward a few decades to 1925, when the World’s Fair in Paris, L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne, first introduced the style that would forever be referred to as “Art Deco” for short (an abbreviated version of the preceding French name). While earlier movements, like Arts and Crafts, focused on function and minimal ornamentation, Art Deco was a primarily fashion-oriented style and was all about the “fluff.” This style mirrored the social progress and art movements of the day. The largely geometric, rectilinear shapes drew upon cubism and African tribal art, while the zigzags and chevrons were designed to represent electricity and radio waves. The goal within this movement was to find a “new style” in every detail, and even the stepped forms in furniture and light fixtures suggested the architectural silhouette of skyscrapers that stretched across a metropolitan skyline.

That being said, within the Fish Building, it’s easy to distinguish Nouveau from Deco. Both periods exude a bold, eclectic and unique style that is an unabashed departure from preceding periods—each with their own distinct details. Here’s how to add a little glitter from the Golden Age to your personal décor…

When adding a dash of deco to your interior, think glamorous, exotic and over-the-top. Look for materials that shine and reflect, like glass, chrome, lacquer, metallics and mirrors. This period was all about luxury, so velvet and leather are upholstery staples. Rich materials like ebony, zebrawood and ivory were commonly used in furniture, so look for glossy, dark woods or lacquered furniture pieces. When it comes to color, go for drama. In addition to the glistening, creamy hues of Hollywood-style glamour, colors were also bold and theatrical. In fact, the dramatic pairing of jewel tones (such as emerald, sapphire & ruby red) with black and gold or silver has become iconic of the Art Deco era. In addition to incorporating these materials and colors into your space, seek shapes and patterns that are geometric, and try adding pieces with repetition and symmetry.

Think sleek, think chic, and you’re on your way to Deco glamour!


Photos Credits: Fish Building photo via; Art Deco photos by Christie Carmelle