A form of Art Deco that grew out of the Modern movement in the 1930s, Art Moderne architecture drew influence from the streamlined, aerodynamic shapes of planes, cars, and ships—emphasizing simple geometric forms, smooth surface finishes, and horizontal lines. In Palm Beach, architects adapted this sleek style to suit South Florida’s climate, using glass blocks to let abundant natural light pour inside while insulating against heat, and incorporating nautical elements like porthole windows and curvilinear forms to connect the buildings to the coastal environment. Here, we take a look at three of Palm Beach’s classic Art Moderne structures.
1. Moffett House
Who designed it: John Volk
When was it built: 1935; designated as a landmark in 2013.
Where to see it: South Ocean Boulevard
What to look for: Some of the distinguishing Art Moderne elements of the Moffett House’s design include glass block windows, curved exterior walls, and metal railings.
2. The Reef
Who designed it: Maurice Fatio
When was it built: 1936; designated as a landmark in 1990.
Where to see it: North County Road
What to look for: Beyond Art Moderne, The Reef is also an example of the International Style. Feted as an architectural gem at The Paris Exposition of 1937, it boasts smooth and uniform wall surfaces, expanses of windows, and an absence of ornamentation.
3. Fore and Aft
Who designed it: Belford Shoumate
When was it built: 1937; designated as a landmark in 1986.
Where to see it: North Lake Way
What to look for: Is it a house or a ship run aground on the shore of the Lake Trail? Fore and Aft is both, marked by geometric motifs, exterior decks and railings, and porthole windows. An architectural marvel of its day, the nautically inspired building was featured in the 1939 World’s Fair as one of the Houses of Tomorrow.
Marie Penny is the director of archives for the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.