Retro Planet LogopresentsPlanet Retro!

1940s Decorating Style

Elements of 1940s Retro Decorating Style

Dominated by WWII, design in the early 1940s was quite creative. As European designers and artists fled to the US, bringing many new ideas, development of new designs remained at a standstill until shortly after the war ended. This was primarily due to material shortages. As production picked back up, people were ready to start new lives, which included redesigns of the home, especially rooms that would accompany guests.

Early American, or “Colonial”, was in vogue during the 1940s. Wooden furniture with floral fabrics and ruffles were all the rage. In the mid- to late-40s, interiors were both functional and fun as people were enjoying life again. The days of rationing and frugality were over and people had money to spend on home interiors and electronics.

The decade was on the cusp of two primary color palettes.

Art Deco (Art Moderne) encompassed the ’20s through the early ’40s and reflected a shift to lighter and more neutral shades with metallic undertones. Popular accent colors were exotic pastels.

Art Deco Color Palette

Art Deco Color Palette (source: California Paints)


The Mid Century Modern palette (1940s through 1960) re-introduced us to bold colors and deep tones. Earth tones were popular for exteriors of homes. Among the most popular interior colors were were navy blue, sunshine yellow, red and white, and light green.

Mid Century Modern Color Palette

Mid Century Modern Color Palette (source: California Paints)


Rooster Gingham Table Linens

Roosters and gingham table linens gained popularity during the 1940s, and remained in use well into the 1950s.

Floral patterns were popular for bedrooms, living areas and wallpapered bathrooms. For the kitchen and dining room we had cherry or apple motifs, gingham (or checks), roosters and chickens.

While primarily associated with the 1950s, it was the 1940s that introduced chrome dinette sets with Formica tabletops, as well as glass drawer pulls, and chrome and vinyl stools, into the home. Bentwood furniture and decor – made by soaking or steaming wood and bending it into curved shapes and patterns – were coming into fashion.

Linoleum – especially in bold geometric patterns – was top choice for the kitchen. The material was strong and lasted many years, despite the fact it required lots of regular maintenance to keep clean and shiny.

1940s blue kitchen with linoleum flooring

1948 kitchen as seen in AMERICAN HOME magazine. Note the popular blue, red and white color scheme with geometric-patterned flooring.

Plenty of pre-existing homes had hardwood flooring throughout the house, save for kitchens and bathrooms, often made from local species of trees. After WWII, though, carpeting became less expensive and hardwood became “outdated”. Living rooms, dens and bedrooms were updated with wall-to-wall carpeting made from synthetic fibers.

Décor Accessories
For the kitchen, canisters in chrome or enamel were available in a wide range of colors, with top choices being red, white, cream or green. In larger kitchens, canisters sat on countertops rather than in pantries. Also popular was the metal breadbox, jadeite dishware and covered cake servers.

For living and entertaining areas, decor was flowery yet simple, and well put together. Grateful for the return of husbands, sons and brothers, family and closeness was key, and home design often conveyed this. Wood decor was still popular, as were clocks and sunny pictures.

New Technologies
The 1940s brought us wooden radios and phonograph consoles, as well as covered televisions. Families would often sit together to hear or see shows, and guests would be included for momentous events.

Overall Look
While the mid- to late-1940s introduced many new design concepts and materials, most households still kept it simple when it came to the overall look of a room. Primary focus was put on the family, so open space was key. Even in modest homes, updates were often made to “brighten” the look in the shift from wartime to peacetime. Clutter-free was key, even in family rooms and bathrooms, as everything had its place. As far as organized design, more homes than not followed the pattern set forth in many catalogs and ads.

Bright Yellow Retro Kitchen

A bright yellow kitchen from the 1940s.

1940s Livingroom

The 1940s living room was clutter-free and featured drapes, lighting and ample furniture. Note the floral fabrics and red and white theme.

Modern 1940s Bentwood Furniture

Bentwood furniture and decor, and patterned walls, were new design hits of the 1940s.

Retro 1940s Bedroom

The modern ’40s bedroom was happy and inviting.


Do you live (or grow up) in a 1940s home? Or one designed with the ’40s in mind? We’d love to hear your story and see pictures.




Last updated: September 16, 2012
Images for Home Theater Wall Decor
About Ann

Ann is a web assistant and project manager with Retro Planet. After prior stints in the advertising and publishing worlds, she has found her place with the company. She is a serious anglophile and history buff, with a passion for anything from the past, especially retro inspired decor.

  • Kay

    We have a 1946 home we are renovating.  Somebody re-did it in awful 1980s.  So basically, we’ve had to gut it, one room at a time!

  • http://www.retroplanet.com/ Retro Planet

     Kay – thanks for sharing! We’d love to see the before and after pics!

  • No

    Was wood flooring and floral wall paper big back then too?

  • Dyan

    I wanted to make my dog grooming shop 1940s themed. I have this big pull to it. I wanted to make my lobby a 1940s family roomish with chairs, and shelves, but pink. I don’t know where to buy 1940s things or how to even make my lobby fun and inviting for 1940s because I don’t want to make it to wild where ww2 vets come in and go back into war zone you know

  • http://www.retroplanet.com/ Retro Planet

    Hi, Dyan:

    I’m going to have one of our staff also post ideas, but as for the pink, there are still some nice retro paint colors available from Sherwin-Williams and the like. Also, you could take a swatch of the color you want from just about anything and many places can match it for you digitally. This is a great way to get the custom color you want in the paint you want. (Do note that colors posted on the web might be skewed depending upon your monitor and printer – finding a vintage catalog would be your best bet).

    California Paints also has many hues from that era: http://www.californiapaints.com/find-color/color-collections/20th-century-colors-of-america.aspx

  • Crystal Young Humphrey

    I live in a home that was built in 1936. We are right outside of Houston, TX. The house has all the original wood flooring but all the original cedar plank walls have been covered by paneling or sheet rock. I’m at a loss as to how to decorate this house. It is VERY small. The entire house is only 613 sqft. Right now I would like to focus on the living room (155 sqft). Can you please tell me where to get some ideas.

  • http://www.retroplanet.com/ Retro Planet

    Hi, Crystal. Sounds like a lovely project. Retro Renovation (http://www.retrorenovation.com) has lots of great ideas and you might want to submit pics and ask for user input. We’d also love to see pics of this time capsule!

  • edna

    Hi Ann.

    Yes I do live in a house from the 1940. It has such great character in this house just love it.. I decided to decorate it with the color red like apple red . Finding antique pieces to decorate with. Love consignment shops. They have very nice consignment shops here in Anderson Indiana


  • Nancy

    We found a 9×12 piece of 1940′s floral linoleum in my parents home we are going through. Would you have any idea of the value of this?
    Thanks so much,

  • http://www.retroplanet.com/ Retro Planet

    Hi, Nancy:

    I’m not sure of the value of old flooring. You might want to ask at Retro Renovation, as they have people there who specialize in various types of flooring and where to buy them.

  • Bern

    Hi Ann I have a 1936 bedroom suite with a headboard, backboard, chest of drawers, bureau with round beveled mirror and a vanity with round beveled mirror. Really good condition. I also have a cherry drop leaf table that the leaves go almost to the ground I live in Las Vegas. I don’t want to deal with a consignment shop so do you have any suggestions where to sell something like this. julskeet@yahoo.com

  • http://www.retroplanet.com/ Retro Planet

    Sorry for the delay, Bern. eBay has been pretty popular for showcasing stuff like this, die-hards even drive long distances to get their hands on pieces. We’d love to see the pictures of your goods…

  • William Norton

    Interesting how Radio Wave and Golden Age are the same color. I’ve always thought these design periods are a little arbitrary–although post war colors are certainly bolder.

  • edith

    Hi Ann
    I am so excited….when most people my age are looking at retirement centers I have found and purchased a 1938 built home. It will require a lot of renovations which I am looking forward to. First one will be to replace the sawdust shavings used for insulation. The whole house was built out of rough cut lumber and the wall plaster is still on the walls behind the recently installed ugly wall board. It never had water or sewer, so only replacement will be the electrical. I plan to add an addition, to house the water and sewer needs, and want to build it as close as possible to match the old part of the house. Building supplies will be quiet different, but hope to keep the theme of the house throughout. With access to people like you, I believe my dream can come true, and when it is finished, it will be truly an amazing house.
    While most buyers saw the rough unfinished boards of the upstairs space, the worst staircase ever(can’t walk down them, must sit and scoot down one step at a time)the old bedroom carpet, hiding ancient lino( in a red flower print) which I hope to keep, and the old hardwood floors that need help, I immediately fell in love with it, and with the low price, I knew this was ‘my house’.
    Thank you for your info…This is a great site…..Look forward to a long and rewarding relationship….I will be visiting your site often…..Thanks again…….Ede

  • Mike

    Have any pictures?

  • Jason

    Hello, Ann. I am a filmmaker about to shoot a period movie set in the years 1938-1947. We have a perfect location for interiors, but the only question I have is, were there wall to wall carpeted stairs during any of those years? This location has that. The home in the film is supposed to be a newer big home belonging to the wealthiest family in the town. Thanks!