Many art historical periods began as a reaction to the current trends of the era. This is quite true of the art nouveau style, which literally means “new” in French. Art nouveau architecture and interior design grew as a rebellion against the fussy, static, and heavy Victorian decorating style of the late 19th century. Curvilinear, dynamic shapes inspired by nature, not history, became characteristic of art nouveau houses around the turn of the 20th century. Asymmetrical, flowing patterns and lighter, airier interiors of art nouveau houses were typical of this style, which bridges the historical, literary styles that preceded it and the modern era that, in turn, grew out of the art nouveau era.
In general, art nouveau houses feature organic, curvilinear patterns inspired by natural elements. Stylized floral motifs, insects, and shell-like patterns are used as adornment. Decorative, asymmetrical lines that curve dramatically in a snakelike manner are referred to as whiplash and are seen used in architectural elements as well as art and furniture. Any geometric patterns tend to be vertical and irregular in placement, with repetitive forms that feature some sort of irregularity in shape, size, or placement from other patterned elements. Despite an abhorrence of traditional inspiration, art nouveau houses show some influence from Rococo and Oriental art.
Art nouveau style began in Europe and spread worldwide. Today, it’s possible to see many examples of art nouveau houses in such cultural centers as Paris, Brussels, or London. Home exteriors tend to be tall with an emphasis on vertical lines of doors and windows. Irregular curves are frequently incorporated into doors, windows, and house numbers. The architects of art nouveau houses believed that exteriors should reflect the interiors of homes and incorporated many of the same flowing, vine-like lines found in interior details and furnishings.
Some art nouveau floor plans feature rooms with curvilinear walls and corners that are more or less than 90 degrees. Curved staircases with wrought iron railings, murals that feature whiplash lines, and hardwood or tile floors abound in art nouveau houses. Art echoing popular themes and featuring muted colors, Pre-Raphaelite women, and distinctive art nouveau typography adorned the walls.
Less cluttered spaces and an open feel predominated in art nouveau houses. Furniture tended to be sparser than in earlier eras. Furniture designers like Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed tall, thin chairs and tables with black lacquer finishes and repeating straight lines. Even practical household objects were manufactured in art nouveau style, as they were valued for their artistic merits as well as utilitarian purposes.