How the Art Nouveau Style Inspired the 1960s–1970s Psychedelic Design Trends

The Turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau Design Style Has Experienced Revivals in the 1970s and Today  

When you think of Art Nouveau, you probably picture romantic Parisian streets dotted with Hector Guimard’s glass canopy metro stations or Victor Horta’s elegant Hôtel Tassel with sweeping staircases and wallcoverings that mimic climbing vines. You probably don’t think of San Francisco’s 1970s psychedelic drug culture. Many people don’t realize that the same turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau designs influenced by feminine and organic forms like flowers and peacocks inspired the psychedelic movement of the 1960s and 70s. Psychedelic artists often explicitly copied Art Nouveau art pieces in posters for bands like The Grateful Dead—with a little more edge, of course. Our San Antonio interior designers and architects analyze the origins of the Art Nouveau movement and how this period of early 1900s design influenced the style of the 1970s. Plus, we look at why the 1970s Art Nouveau Revival style is trending again in the 2020s.   

The Origins of the Art Nouveau Movement 

When comparing the early 1900s, 1970s, and 2020s, there are a surprising number of similarities. To further understand these parallels and relate them to the design trends of the decades, our San Antonio interior designers and architects went back to the origins of the Art Nouveau movement. At the turn of the century, the world was experiencing the Industrial Revolution, which brought new technologies and changed how the world functioned. With the rise of mass production, furnishings and decor became uniform, sterile, and uncreative. Artists rejected this aesthetic and new forms of technology and reverted back to organic forms inspired by nature, ringing in the Art Nouveau design style. Seeking inspiration from the feminine form, flora, and animals, artists of the period sought to blend beauty and function. 

Elements of the Turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau Design Style

Colors Inspired by Nature 

Art Nouveau draws inspiration from the color palette already provided by nature. Designers incorporated muted greens and browns as the base of their designs and accented with rich mustard yellows, vibrant blues, dark reds, and deep violets. 

Unique Combination of Materials 

The Art Nouveau movement was made possible by the technology it sought to reject. With access to more modern materials and means of production, iron, glass, ceramics, and wood were used to create unusual forms inspired by free-form lines.   

Organic Lines and Movement

Art Nouveau abandoned straight edge lines favoring flowing lines, repeating patterns, and asymmetry for an organic feel. Flowers and insects adorned ornamentation for a delicate look, and repetition was utilized to stress that the space is alive and moving. 

The 1970s Art Nouveau Revival 

Like the turn of the century, the 1960s and 1970s experienced dramatic cultural and technological shifts that many artists sought to reject, especially musicians. By the late 60s, the commercial aesthetic of the Mod style was out, the Vietnam War was raging, and the nuclear arms race pushed the boundaries of how far technology should go. While protests and psychedelic music were beginning to take off in San Francisco, America as a whole was seeking an escape to nature and nostalgia. 

In San Francisco, all the elements happened to align to spark the Art Nouveau Revival, inspiring the iconic psychedelic designs of the 1960s and 70s. Psychedelic music was taking off, and venues needed bolder posters to advertise the music, so they commissioned local artists. Many of these artists were inspired by the 1965 Art Nouveau exhibitions in many San Francisco museums. Artists related to these exhibits because they saw parallels between the current protests of the military-industrial complex and the past rejection of the Industrialization Revolution. Commissioned artists pulled directly from the Art Nouveau period while turning up the dial for a psychedelic edge. Sometimes referred to as “Art Nouveau on acid,” these psychedelic posters included natural and organic elements like flowers and peacocks, and they sometimes directly copied Art Nouveau originals. Venue posters started gaining global attention, and people would tear them down to hang in their homes, launching the psychedelic interior design style of the 1970s.

This is an example of Art Nouveau and Sixties
This is an example of Art Nouveau and sixties.

Elements of the 1970s Psychedelic Style Influenced by Art Nouveau 

Art Nouveau-inspired Organic Forms 

Art Nouveau inspired the 1960s and 70s psychedelic style primarily with a return to organic forms. Music venue posters graced with butterflies, flowers, and peacocks eventually lead to similar wallpaper designs and textiles used in 1970s interiors. 

Bright Vibrating Colors

Unlike Art Nouveau, which drew inspiration from natural and muted colors, the psychedelic movement embraced bright, almost vibrating colors to illustrate an acid trip. The colors themselves appear to vibrate, adding dynamic movement associated with the Art Nouveau style. 

Illegible Typefaces

Primarily in poster design, artists adapted the Alfred Roller typeface used in Art Nouveau advertisements, creating the free-form bubble letters associated with the era. Almost illegible, the type captured attention and kept viewers interested in finding meaning. 

A sample of 60s Art Nouveau
A Sample of 60s Art Nouveau Advertisements

Learn More About the Psychedelic Aesthetic 

Why the Art Nouveau and 1970s Design Styles are Trending in the 2020s

As we move into the 2020s, our San Antonio interior designers and architects have noticed that the Art Nouveau and 1970s styles are trending again. Why is Art Nouveau back over 100 years later? Why are homeowners seeking 1970s style inspiration when it was not long ago considered to be dated? 

Like the early 1900s and 1970s, the 2020s have delivered new technologies and massive cultural shifts. The current decade has brought digital technologies that infiltrate every aspect of modern living, political protests, and a global pandemic that drastically changed how we live in and design our homes. As a result, people are again craving a return to nature, nostalgic memories, and elements of beauty. In response to digitalization and the current problems of the day, many homeowners seek natural connections and embrace the organic forms popular in Art Nouveau and retro 1970s design.    

1970s Style Elements That Are Trending Today 

Organic Forms 

Indoor plants, macrame, wall textiles, and statement wallpapers with organic lines are being readapted with a cleaner edge for cozy contemporary living.  

Natural Materials 

In the 1970s, cane and rattan furniture was all the rage, and these pieces are coming back in a big way. Collectors are now seeking out original Cesca chairs, and reproductions are being ordered to meet the demand. 

Modern 70s Inspired Decor by Amber Road Design
Modern 70s Inspired Decor by Amber Road Design

Bright Colors 

The 2010s were dominated by all-white interiors, grays, and plenty of neutrals. Today, homeowners embrace bright colors that resonate with their personalities, and many seek inspiration from psychedelic design. So don’t be surprised to see collectors proudly displaying their Grateful Dead posters front and center! 

70s Inspired Decor the Pennisula House by Sjb and Andrew Parr
Here is an example of 70s-inspired decor in the Peninsula House by Sjb and Andrew Parr.

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