How the Art Deco set design of The Great Gatsby embodies the essence of the 1920s (and win the movie!)

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Art Deco furniture is experiencing a revival right now. In this guest feature, vintage furniture expert Hannah Russell discusses her love of this period of design and talks us through her highlights of the inspiring set design of The Great Gatsby.

You can also WIN your very own copy of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby on DVD or Blu-Ray c/o our friends at Warner Bros! Read on for details…

When a film set in the 1920s features girls cavorting in the pool with an inflatable zebra in its trailer, you could be forgiven for raising a questioning eyebrow or two towards historical accuracy. But for Catherine Martin, the Academy Award winning set decorator tasked with recreating the essence of the 1920s for Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version of The Great Gatsby, this was all part of her self appointed role as a historical detective. And in fact, despite the popularity of inflatable coloured animals in the here and now (hello pink flamingos on Instagram!), the concept has actually been in existence since the late 19th century with a more substantial sounding name the ‘pneumatic mattress.’

Catherine was tasked by Baz Luhrmann (who also happens to be her husband), with recreating the essence and opulence of the period in a way that made sense to modern audiences. In her own words, Catherine says that, “Baz had no overt desire to modernise The Great Gatsby. Rather, he wanted modern audiences to understand how modern the Gatsby world felt to its protagonists at the time. He didn’t want it to be seen through a nostalgic lens. Instead we tried to capture that frenzy of movement and drive to the future.”

It was a drive to the future and a feeling of freedom which dominated in the ‘roaring twenties’. In a postwar world, Gatsby, Daisy, Jay, Tom and even Nick Carraway inhabit a realm of unrestrained decadence and glamour, representing the freedom to enjoy to excess something that was very much of the moment in the postwar years. It was no small undertaking to create this frenzy. The team created 42 sets and spent 14 weeks building, painting and decorating the iconic mansion belonging to the eponymous Jay Gatsby.

We take a look at some of our favourite scenes from The Great Gatsby and pick out some standout pieces:

Tom and Daisy’s Sitting Room

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With sunshine and heat streaming through the windows of Tom’s and Daisy’s sitting room, Nick Caraway walks into the room and is immediately bathed in the privileged light of their world. With huge chandeliers lining the hallway and dotting across the ceiling, the wealth of the inhabitants is made painfully clear. The Art Deco period is well known for a luxurious style – designers of the time used exotic woods, geometric patterns and smooth lines in their furniture. Jordan and Daisy recline in the heat on an oversized cream lounge suite, as used to great effect here, which was very much in vogue at the time – particularly with the matching wood arms on the sofa and chairs.

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Tom and Myrtle’s Secret Stopaway

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The unrestrained wealth and elegance of both Tom’s and Gatsby’s mansion are in stark contrast to the desolate, dusty streets they drive through to reach Tom and Myrtle’s secret hideaway location.

The deep red and velvet of the decor in this scene screams sex, seduction and excess of an altogether more dangerous kind to the excess of wealth in the previous scenes. The space is small and cluttered, with a small Art Deco ceiling light in contrast to the exquisite glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling in Tom’s main residence.

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Gatsby loses his temper at the Plaza Hotel

In one of the climatic scenes of the film, the group congregate in the stifling heat at the Plaza Hotel. Tom and Gatsby exchange verbal spars and the tension mounts, along with the oppressive New York summer temperatures.

Catherine Martin says that their research into the period revealed that the Plaza was the place where ‘anybody who was anybody met.’ The current owners of the Plaza hotel collaborated with the filmmakers and allowed them to use their official logo in the film. This scene is one where, Martin says, they took a few liberties to enhance the atmosphere of the filming. The wood panelling, for example, was a lot darker in the film than it would have been in actuality to create feeling of moodiness and tension.

Daisy, the object of both men’s affections, slumps unhappily into a large, antique chair as Tom and Gatsby provoke one another. Whilst the film is about the men’s love for Daisy, it also reveals her to be confused and indecisive. In this scene she seems small and insignificant, dwarfed by the oversized chair and the male aggression in the room.

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The Art Deco period is a particular favourite of mine and has definitely been experiencing a revival in popularity in the last few months. There is something so undeniably refined yet decadent about the pieces from the period! Mixing rare woods, shapely curved furniture lines and bold, angular geometric prints with a modern base gives a feeling of luxury to every space and is certainly something we advocate here at Layer. As more and more art and furniture from the Art Deco period makes its way onto the marketplace, we fall in love with something new everyday!

Hannah Russell

Find art deco furniture and lighting from online vintage furniture specialists Pamono> or from Etsy >

set design of the great gatsby dvdCOMPETITION TIME!
Our friends at Warner Bros very kindly gave us several DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s to feast on the inspiring Art Deco set design of The Great Gatsby at your leisure.
UPDATE 10.10.16: THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED and the winners of all 3 competitions on the website, Twitter and our Facebook page have been notified. Congratulations to all.

The Great Gatsby is available to buy now on DVD or Blu-Ray or watch now on iTunes.

About the author -


Hannah Russell

Hannah Russell is Co-founder and CEO of Layer ( layerhome.com ), a curated online marketplace for preloved design furniture. She discovered a love for mid century furniture whilst browsing the flea markets during her time spent living in Berlin and hasn’t looked back since!

Posted in: Feature, Guest Blog on September 29, 2016
Film Title: The Great Gatsby
Film Year: 2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Genre: Drama Romance
Set Designer: Catherine Martin
Object Type: sofa chair light
Object Sub-type: Art Deco
Object Shop: Layer
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

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