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What’s the difference between Art Nouveau and Art Deco? Many people, even some professional designers, are often flummoxed by the difference between the two styles. Here’s how to tell them apart.

Art Nouveau is the older of the two styles, but it overlapped with the Art Deco movement for a few years. That’s probably part of what has led to the confusion. Both styles also suited Arts and Crafts (aka Craftsman) homes built during the first quarter of the 20th century — you’ll often see either Art Nouveau or Art Deco picture frames, candelabras and light fixtures used to accent Arts and Crafts-style furnishings. No wonder the distinctions became blurred.

Let’s look more closely at the two styles:

Art Nouveau (pronounced new-vo) was a response – a pushback, if you will – to the industrial age, factories and urbanization. It has a soft undulating look, very romantic and stylized. There’s an abstraction of natural forms, such as spider webs, insects, flowers and tree branches, and pieces often seem to embody a gentle movement. In many ways, Art Nouveau might be described as a feminine style; delicate fairies made frequent appearances. One of the most widely recognized examples of Art Nouveau is the stained glass lamp style created by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

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Art Nouveau was in vogue from about 1880 until just after World War I. If you have visited Prague, you’ve certainly noticed the beautiful Art Nouveau interior design in many of the city’s restaurants and concert halls. The paintings of Gustav Klimt and the arches of the Eiffel Tower are examples of the Art Nouveau style. So is Lalique jewelry.

Art Deco, which took its name from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in France and lasted until about World War II, is a strong, often chunky, even manly aesthetic that uses geometric shapes, including zigzags and sunbursts. Think of the Chrysler Building or Empire State Building in New York City. Think, in fact, of Houston’s own City Hall.

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Art Deco came to represent the Jazz Age, and Art Deco designers loved using modern materials, such as stainless steel, Bakelite, chrome and inlaid wood.

Why did one style give way so suddenly to the other? Opinion is divided, but many believe Art Nouveau was inspired by artists’ rejection of the Industrial Revolution, whereas Art Deco was influenced by the realities and hardships of the post-World War I era, which resulted in designs that emphasize efficiency and streamlining.

Take a look at the following 10 pairs, and you will quickly begin to discern the difference between Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

ART NOUVEAU

ART DECO