1940s Design: Post-War Optimism

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1940s design had two distinct phases: the WWII period, during which nothing much changed from the 1930s because of the war effort, and the post-war period, when endless optimism, strong patriotism and a nostalgia for a more innocent time took over. While the late 1940s still carried some elements of the Art Deco style of the ’20s and ’30s through glamorous lighting and high-shine accessories, there was a definite shift in the tastes for home decor, especially in the colors.

What did the 1940s look like inside the home and how can you bring a bit of its optimism back in yours? That’s what we’re going to cover today.

1940s design

1940s design: the basics

In the 1940s, color came back with a vengeance. Bright yellows, reds, oranges, blues and greens took over every part of the home, from kitchens to dining rooms, from bathrooms to bedrooms. There was a sense of freedom from the privations of the war period, and people wanted to move on from the drab greys and pastels of the pre-war period. Patriotic colors gained in popularity.

However, the 40s still suffered from a slowdown in manufacturing, so there was not yet the sense of material comfort and exuberance of the ’50s. During the war, people had learned to live with less and were simply happy to see the soldiers return to their families. The home decor of the period celebrated this impression by remaining simple yet welcoming. Floral wallpapers, comfortable beds, ample lighting and lots of white in the kitchen and bathroom made all the difference to a weary soldier coming home.

1940s design in your home

A 1940s kitchen used white as a main shade with bright colors layered on top. Red, blue, green and yellow served as accents. Think white countertops and cupboards with red-and-white checkered linens and cheery drapes for the windows.

The bathroom was also white, as people were still concerned with health and sanitation. This is when the modern, blocky bath appears. But the 1940s bathroom also included some color, often in the porcelain of the bath and sink. Pink, blue and peach were popular accent shades.

The bedroom featured decor that celebrated innocence and sweetness. Pastel floral wallpapers, silky bedlinens and lots of light characterize this bedroom. The floral pattern could also be found on bedlinens or even the carpet. Think Liz Taylor’s blue bedroom for a great example of 40s bedroom design.

The 40s living room was sparse yet functional. It made up for the lack of luxury with bright colors and practical seating, along with a central radio and, increasingly, television sets. Think bright red couches with neutral walls and rugs and retro wood furniture. You can also go back to the 18th century colonial style, which made a comeback in the 1940s.

1940s accessories

If you only have a small budget to redecorate your room, you can use a few simple accessories to bring a cheery post-war feel.

Color is really the keyword here. One bright color on a backdrop of white or neutral is the perfect way to decorate 1940s style. Add a few colored cushions to your living room or add bright towels to a white bathroom.

Add a floral wallpaper to one wall of the living room or the bedroom. The 40s was when wallpaper really came in full force; everyone had at least one wall with wallpaper on it. Other patterns include stripes and checkered squares. The bedroom is a bit more muted, but you can use bright colors in the living room.

Go antiquing for an old radio to add a bit of 1940s style to your living room. The fireplace mantle is a great spot for it.

Houseplants became really popular in the 40s, and they were often added to windowsills or to glass shelves for breath of fresh air.

The 1940s was certainly an interesting period for home decor! The return of color was definitely refreshing, and people felt compelled to express their optimism and happiness for peace through home decor. Do you like the post-war 40s style? How do you bring it to your home? Share your ideas with us!


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Anabelle Bernard Fournier

Anabelle is a freelance writer, writing teacher and blogger. She spends a lot of time at home, so she likes to make sure that it's cozy and nice, especially in her reading nook. In her free time, Anabelle knits, walks and learns how to write stories.