Art historian Genista Davidson has spent the last 30 years travelling and living the Art Deco life for business and leisure, and always sourcing Art Deco wherever in the world she may be.
Art Deco – what do these two simple words mean to you? To fully define and explain the origins, main exponents and Art Deco movement as a whole, would take much longer then this article, however we can take a very brief over view of that unique time capsule when the world first encountered what we now term as Art Deco.
It was in the 1960s that the term ‘Art Deco’ was formally recognised as the defining name for the period (usually regarded as the inter-war years 1918 to 1939).
However the foundations for this movement were laid down as early as 1904 by Josef Hoffmann, but came to the world’s attention following the 1925 Paris World Exhibition which highlighted Art Deco in all its glory.
Many people I have spoken to over the years cannot actually say why or what it is specifically that they like about the architecture, design and revolutionary style which came out of the first half of the 20th century and swept across Europe and America (and reached Australia, New Zealand, India and Argentina to name but a few) other than that they can recognise it and enjoy seeing it.
They often associate it with white rendered concrete flat roofed buildings, suntrap windows, and sunray motifs.
It may be the stylised use of the new material called Bakelite (early form of plastic) which was now ingeniously used for anything from door and furniture handles to lemon squeezers and jewellery, or the simplistic clean lined interior designs.
Whatever you associate it with or like (or dislike) about art deco it certainly made its mark.
Unlike its predecessors that of Art Nouveau and the Arts & Crafts movement, Art Deco was here to address every area of society, it was to be functional and practical using materials which could be mass produced and out of this grew some iconic utilitarian City Hall buildings along with hotels, cinemas, Dance Halls, lidos not to mention residential properties.
Over the years, unfortunately many Art Deco buildings have fallen into disrepair and been demolished as the heritage of that time had been little appreciated and they have made way for new developments and supermarkets or were revamped into bingo halls (maybe not the original intention but at least the building still exists).
Over the past ten years a steady momentum of people embracing the past whether it be ‘good old fashioned manners and courtesy’ or the escapism that nostalgia brings, with the glamour and glitz that is also often referred to as ‘jazz days’ conjures up within us, is having a revival.
Let us first take a look at the iconic art deco Saltdean Lido.
This 1930s gem was the work of R.W.H Jones and was built at a time when the health benefits of fresh air and swimming were all the rage.
I have fond memories of being told stories of how my parents enjoyed spending their youth frolicking around in the refreshing water and what a treasured asset it was.
Sadly over the years it fell fail to decay and the bulldozers were all set to move in.
It is the tireless and unyielding work of the Saltdean Community Interest Company, a group of volunteers who have campaigned to save this national treasure.
It is with immense pleasure and great pride on the part of the Fundraising team that this year will see the grand opening of the Lido again for all to enjoy.
I have my knitted swimsuit on stand-by!
We must not forget the lesser known but delightful Pell’s Pool in Lewes.
This outside pool was built in 1860 and is Grade II listed.
It is fed by a natural spring and is the oldest fresh water pool in the country.
It has had the original liner replaced over the years but little else has changed.
It has facilities for changing and a toddler pool with play area, situated in a beauty spot of a nature reserve by the river.
It was very popular in the 1920s and 30s and still gets crowded throughout the summer months.
Shoreham Airport (Brighton City) which saw its first flight in 1910 by Harold Plume Piffard who famously completed a mid-air turn.
It was not until circa 1935 that the iconic Art Deco terminal building was designed by Stavers Hessell Tiltman.
Pleasure flights are available to suit all budgets and the whole experience of this living Art Deco airport is a pleasure beyond words.
Now we move on to Worthing where the pier was destroyed by fire in 1933 and a new pier was built (1935) in the Streamline Modern design with its beautiful contours and curves.
The Pavilion Theatre and Denton Café are situated at the northern, land end of the pier; in the middle is the 1935 amusement arcade, whilst the southern pavilion at the sea end houses a tea room and function area, it successfully underwent extensive restoration during 2013/14 and is now a delightful venue for the whole community and visitors to enjoy.
Worthing can also boast a pair of fine seafront Art Deco apartments at Onslow Court and Stoke Abbott Court.
These private residential premises have the classic Art Deco facades and are well worth a view.
The Assembly Hall, which is a stone’s throw away from the Stoke Abbott apartments, was built in 1934 in the style from the Scandinavian Modernist Movement with Art Deco overtones.
The front façade is detailed with three Art Deco style stone masks over sea waves above the first floor pivoting casement windows.
It has abundant Art Deco features both in the foyer and the main hall in the style of a marine theme of seahorses and star lights, and I will mention it does have the largest Wurlitzer in Europe!
Most people are familiar with the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea which dates back to 1935, when Earl De La Warr laid the plaque that can still be seen in the floor of the Pavilions foyer.
His visions for a modernist building of world renowned for the future prosperity and culture of the town only lasted until the Second World War when it started to decline.
After a successful campaign to restore this local asset it reopened its doors 2006.
It has a delightful café where some scenes of Agatha Christies ‘ABC Murders’ featuring Poirot were shot.
Now for accommodation – no Art Deco sojourn would be complete without fully embracing the iconic period and experiencing staying in authentic properties.
Near to Brighton and Hove is Bethany Art Deco House, a luxurious original property available for holiday lettings.
It is very near to the beach and sheer bliss.
West Wittering has a hidden gem by the name of Turritella, a classic Art Deco house situated directly on the beach.
It has been fully renovated and lovingly remodelled, with a roof garden which has spectacular views across to the Isle of Wight and along The Solent to Portsmouth.
This property is available to rent and is delightful come rain or shine.
To round off a tour of Sussex why not spend a night or two at the Manor Road Garage – The Pitstop.
This Grade II listed petrol station, which up to 1973 was still in operation, has been sympathetically converted to a two bedroom Art Deco apartment which is part of a complex and is available for hire.
I would also like to ‘take my hat off’ to the architect Thomas Heatherwick who built the East Beach Café, Littlehampton in 2007.
This innovation and visionary café would not look out of place in 1930 as the revolutionary shape of clouds, waves or shells fits very well with the Art Deco theme – but that may be my Art Deco head as it has also been compared to driftwood and sand dunes!
Either way it is a breathtaking architectural masterpiece.
This only scrapes the tip of the iceberg, so next time when you are leisurely walking along your high street or parade of shops, take time to look at the style of the buildings and start to explore the legacy that Art Deco has left behind in your region for all to enjoy.
Whether you are intrigued, amused or just interested in Art Deco, The Art Deco Traveller – A Guidebook to Britain is a cacophony of hotels, restaurants, bars, cinemas, theatres, dance halls, lidos and places of interest which will whet your appetite to explore the regions and seek out more of these often undervalued gems, which are still in existence for the general public to enjoy.
• Art Deco Traveller – A Guide to Britain by Genista Davidson is available from www.artdecotraveller.co.uk and major book outlets.
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