Shanghai art deco furniture

Although it was only named in the 1960’s, Art Deco was the dominant style for modern design in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. Named after the 1925 Paris “Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs“, the style was dominated by simplified geometric patterns, inspired by nature and exotic countries. It also introduced streamline design that it is closely associated with. Art Deco came to Shanghai in the 1920’s, being developed in architecture and graphic design. It was also largely used in furniture design, in a way that is quite specific to Shanghai.

Shanghai Art Deco seater

Art Deco furniture followed two different tracks: The origins of Art Deco was found in Europe, particularly in France. Art Deco furniture there were created by highly trained craft masters and manufacturedmostly for wealthy customers or in very smal quantities. They used highly refined materials including precious woods and were created for an elite that could afford it. The second track was then developed mostly in the USA using more affordable material like steal and industrial manufacturing techniques, it created items on a large schale and became the origin of modern design.

Art Deco wood carving

Shanghai Art Deco furniture followed a pattern combining both tracks while using resources specific to the city. The ancestral art of Chinese wood carving was used to create modern pieces following art deco design. Since the manpower was cheap and plentiful, Shanghai Art Deco furniture were crafted like the French ones, but using less precious material and manufactured on a large schale.Wood carving replaced precious wood inserts in furniture decoration, creating highly modern and decorative pieces at an affordable price. The result was a unique combination of craft and industry.

Shanghai Art Deco Seats
Art Deco pair of seat with Chinese characteristics

Symbol of modernity, Art Deco furniture where widely adopted by the middle and upper class of Shanghai that was fast developing in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. They followed the Art Deco movement in style but were often adapted to local traditions. Best examples are pairs of seaters separated by a tea table, or mahjong tables that are specific to China. Just like traditional Chinese furniture, they were often more decorative than usable. Hard seated Shanghai Art Deco chairs remind more of Ming Dynasty traditional seats, that comfortable European seats. Art Deco furniture and other related items such as radio sets and electric fans became ubiquitous in Shanghai. In a city obsessed with modernity, Art Deco furniture became the mainstream style like nearly nowhere else. The style fade away in the 1950’s but Shanghai residents kept them for long time because of lack of replacement. With plenty of new choices available from 1990’s, these old pieces were often discarded, replaced by new and shiny ones. They are now often used by designers in Shanghai to give the feeling of Old Shanghai in an interior. In the last year, they have become fashionable as antics and prices have climbed significantly, but it is still possible to find the right piece at a reasonable price.

Recommended books on Art Deco in Shanghai:
– Shanghai Art Deco, Deke Erh and Tess Johnston, Old China Hand Press (Hong Kong), 2006
– Shanghai Style, art and design between the wars, Lynn Pan, Joint Publishing, 2008

Recommended shops:
– Shanghai Old furniture: corner of Julu lu et Maoming Lu. The shop mixes old European antic et Old Shanghai Antic
– Lao Jo – Jing Xian Lu 152-154

6 thoughts on “Shanghai art deco furniture”

  1. Thank you so much for this interesting article. Art Deco has been an interest of mine – and I think this is so because I saw so much of it as a child in the Settlement.

    Best wishes to you Hugues,

    Margaret Blair

  2. The city of Long Beach, California also has some of the best examples of art deco style architecture in the US. The Long Beach earthquake of 1933 leveled much of the city and when it was rebuilt art deco was the style in fashion.
    Art Deco Society Los Angeles

  3. Thanks a lot for the information. I knew about Art Deco in California, but I had not heard about long beach just yet.
    California was definitely on our travel list, Long Beach just got added

  4. Hi,
    Thanks a lot for this article. I am planning to visit this shop on Jing Xian Lu that you’ve recommended. I have checked the address on google map and it seems very far south from shanghai. Is that the right place? Thanks in advance for your reply.

  5. Thanks for your comment. I double checked what location Google map was giving and discovered that there are 2 JinXian lu in Shanghai.
    The one you are looking for is in Luwan district, about 5 minutes from the other recommended shop.

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