21 ideas for your 1940s ranch, bungalow or cape – 40s kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms and more

1946-pyrex-kitchen-crop.jpg

Quickly after World War II ended, Americans plowed right into making a wonderful new life for themselves – starting with building their dream kitchens, dream bathrooms – dream houses. Looking at periodicals from 1946, I can see a few distinct trends – this was a transitional period…you still see many Deco influences…you see a lot of primary colors…and definitely, interiors were “sweet”, although in ’46 homeowners certainly would have declared them “modern.” Read on for ideas from each of six great interiors, including a bathroom, two living rooms and a bedroom. 1946 was a very good year!

Tips from the first kitchen image — isn’t the “life through a Pyrex pie plate” awesome?:

  • This color combination: Dark cherry red linoleum countertops, primary green linoleum floor, white metal (or wood cabinets) with deco pulls seems to have been very, very common.
  • In this image, you also see a light chartreuse green on the wall – this, or yellow, also seem to have been popular secondary colors.
  • And flowered fabrics… These kitchens are pure prettiness. Image: Pyrex, of course.

1946-briggs-beautyware-bathroom-crop.jpg

Isn’t this Briggs Beautyware bathroom just gorgeous.  To be sure, there is a lot going on. Observations:

  • Great color combination: beige – almost salmon tile, light baby blue (ala today’s “spa blue”), brown linoleum floor. The darker floor in both this image and the kitchen above “anchor” the rooms.
  • Very ’40s: the fringy rug in front of the tub, striped and monogrammed towels, chenille-scalloped rug in front of the sink, tufted dressing chairs, and all the Carrera glass (used instead of tile on the walls).
  • Last time I checked, today’s linoleum is not recommended for bathrooms – but if you are dedicated to keeping standing water off the floor – or want to use it in a 1/2 bath, go for it.
  • Notice the full length mirror behind the dressing table at the far right.
  • That full length drape – and of course, the glass block – both add to the luxe feel. Image: Briggs Plumbing.

1946-carpet-living-room.jpg

  • Blonde wood – similar to Heywood-Wakefield’s classic champagne (I believe) finish. This room definitely has a primary color feel.
  • The lampshade: I’d call that “40s”…”waxed foil”?
  • The patterned rug – definitely promoted heavily in the 40s.(You can see it in my header!)
  • The built-in couch … a continuation straight of of 20s and 30s moderne designs

1946-living-room.jpg

  • Oh my gosh, oh so ’40s: lavendar walls, emerald green floors. Combining these “secondary” colors of the color wheel is always on the “recommended” lists that were so common during this period.
  • Chintz draperies – scalloped valance
  • Notice the Staffordshire dogs on the mantel – very classic.
  • Not a ton of furniture in 40s interiors. (Today, our interiors are way jammed compared with the immediate postwar period.)
  • Note the style of the deco club chairs. And, there’s a colonial wing chair in the foreground. Image: American Home.

1946-lavendar-green-gray-bedroom.jpg

  • Here’s the purple/green color combo again.
  • I’m calling the bedding: dove gray, although it’s hard to tell from this image.
  • The wallpaper – very sweet, simple…and combined with the chintz curtains and scalloped valance (again…) even more so. Note: I’ve found some not-too-expensive wallpaper in this vein and will feature it soon. Image: American Home.

1946-draperies-crop.jpg

  • Cabbage rose chintz pinch pleats with frilly undercurtains. American Home.

1940s-paint-color-palette.jpg

Remember this palette? It’s from the Church toilet seat company – and it captures the 40 palette very will indeed. Happy decorating all you owners of 40s homes… Jason K…Carleton Heights Girl… Neil.. and more! Ad: Church Plumbing.

Get our retrolicious free newsletter.

Newsletter-sign-up-2NMAS

Comments

  1. retropink57 says

    Hi Pam

    I live in a 1948 Cape Cod and I’m in the process of renovating my kitchen…as you know from my pictures and questions I bombarded you with! I had originally thought I wanted to go with pink and aqua but since my pink appliances are very early 50s (therefore soft and round), I’m learning toward more of a 1940s look for the kitchen. I started getting major cold feet with using aqua (even though it’s one of my favorites) so I’m going with my gut-feeling and scrapping that color altogether with my kitchen reno.

    Instead of the aqua boomerang countertop with my white cabinets, I’m thinking about the Formica VirrVarr grey. I had picked out aqua and grey 12″ squares for the floor to be arranged not in a checkerboard but a slight variation to where I would end up with diagonal rows of aqua diamonds on a grey background (I sent you a picture a while back). Now, I’m thinking about replacing the aqua with a burgundy. Would that go with the pink? Or should I not use squares at all?

    Or maybe I should pick a different countertop color? Any help is greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!!!!

    Tammy – retropink57

  2. sumacsue says

    I love that illustration with the pie plate. How clever of the illustrator. I have several of those pie plates, formerly owned by older relatives, and they are great because of those little tabs for grasping with potholders.

  3. Elizabeth Mary says

    Sumacsue, Love the pyrex and it is the best for making sure the crust bottom is cooked. And, as you say, the handles make getting a bubbling pie out of the oven safer and easier than with pie plates with no such handles.

  4. Wendy says

    Love the 1940’s images! Your description of “transitional” is exactly what I love about this era. My family was pretty frugal, so my grandparents’ house included a few turn-of-the-century antiques, danish-modern pieces, Hawaiian textiles, and some 50’s kitsch. The beauty of recreating this look for my home is that it’s cheap, and found items can originate from anywhere in a 50 year span.

  5. says

    You can see a distinct demarcation in the advertising … before and after Hiroshima. The word I would use to describe it is sheer exuberance! I swear there are people kissing on every other page alternating with babies!

    The stylish traditional look was a continuation of the 1930s, but modern styles for young modern adults could be seen more, especially in the pre-fab housing of the period. The constraints of the Depression and lack of new housing during the War had built up a tremendous demand. During the War, everyone had been investing in War bonds. They were ready to cash in!

    retropink57: You could easily use grays, burgundy, pink, and a dark green. Give it a little life with a rich gold highlight. You could skip the tile and use linoleum with a border and liner instead. Very retro 40s and consistent with the Cape Cod/Minimal Traditional style, but itS modern enough now to be pleasing to live with (and easy to maintain).

    As for linoleum on the bathroom floors, Pam. It works fine for small bathrooms as long as it’s sheet and has been sealed and caulked. Armstrong and Forbo both waffle about its installation and both show pics of bathroom installations. I wouldn’t use the click product or tile, and patterned designs are out. I’ve used it in both my bathrooms and I love it.

    And you’re right about standing water, but then that’s deadly with any flooring.

    R.

  6. Anita says

    I particularly like the first two pictures, the kitchen and the bathroom. The kitchen cabinets, countertop, counter edging and handles look almost exact to the house I grew up in (built in 1950). Love the 40s! (but then, I love the 30s, 50s, 60s….., tiki, diner, oriental….. too many good things to just stick with one!)

  7. Jeanne says

    The first house I bought (ahem, 1981) was built in the late 40s and had that exact dark red countertop with metal edging and white cabinets!

    I love all the images you’ve posted. Fantastic ideas for the 40s look. I think Tammy/retropink57 should go with the maroon and grey, with the chartreuse green as an accent color.

    I love the blonde furniture. I bought a blonde dresser at a local antique/used furniture warehouse. FYI Russel Wright is the one who coined the phrase “blonde” to describe the light furniture (or so I’ve read). He was the Martha Stewart of the 30s-50s.

    Also, I’ve noticed that monogrammed items are back in style. It would be fabulous to own some monogrammed towels as shown in the one picture.

  8. retropink57 says

    Rikki

    Thanks for your great suggestions! I love the idea of linoleum instead of the VCT squares but I have a question: Do I have to piece the linoleum together with a border and liner or is the linoleum manufactured in one big piece like that?

    I also love the idea of pink/burgundy/grey…maybe I can add the dark green in the form of leaves in a 40s print floral in my curtains and wallpaper. I don’t have those patterns picked out yet, but I have an idea in my head. I’m waiting for something to ‘jump out’ at me…you know how that goes. I might find something tomorrow or it might be next year!

    Retropink57

  9. retropink57 says

    Jeanne

    Thanks for your fab suggestions! I seriously need all the help I can get! My countertop now is original to the kitchen and it’s solid black. The backsplash is solid black, too, and it goes all the way up to the bottom of the upper cabinets. I was going to keep the backsplash the same as the new countertop but maybe I’ll leave the backsplash off and just paint!

    Retropink57

    • says

      Tammy, I am looking at the photos you sent me. I will queue them up for a post this week. Question, though: Why do you want to get rid of the countertops? Are they in bad shape? If not, I’d recommend to keep them…?

  10. Retrocat says

    I love the images! I was born in 1955 and I remember the first 3 houses we lived in had predominately pink walls. That seemed to be the color scheme for the majority of the houses in one particular neighborhood we lived in. If rooms weren’t painted pink, they were mauve, or pale institutional green. Painting the house interior an off-white color didn’t come into vogue until the mid 1960s. Blinds were wider and were called ‘venetian blinds’. Draperies were in, especially the pinch-pleated kind. Shutters were in vogue during this era, also. They were a little different than today’s plantation shutters. Pink, mauve, and beige carpets were very much a part of this period. The sculpted carpets didn’t come into vogue until the mid 1960s.

    That’s how I remember it.

  11. says

    retropink57 —

    I’ve wrestled with the linoleum dilemma for awhile … that is, tile vs. sheet.

    In the kitchen, you might want to factor in a professional install because you would actually be doing a custom installation. It’s one of the awesome things about lino is its adaptability in designs.

    Linoleum comes in sheets on a roll. These days you would scribe the border in one color, then in a second for the liner, and a third for the center. It’s a cool effect. I’ve also seen homes where a design was incised into the middle of the sheet. Thus the recommendation to have it installed professionally. The manufacturers won’t warrant it unless it’s professionally installed.

    Tile and click style are both more manageable by DIYers. I think I’m going to go with the Forbo Click in the kitchen because I can get it for $3.99 a sq. ft. and do it myself.

    R.

  12. retropink57 says

    Pam –

    The thought to keep the original countertop never entered my mind but now that you mention it, it’s a great idea! It’s certainly showing its age and has a few rough spots here and there but there isn’t anything a strategically-placed dish towel wouldn’t fix.

    I guess the main reason I had for thinking I needed a new countertop is because the countertop would have to be removed in order to get the sink out. I was going to get it reglazed (it would cost the same as the new Kohler sink that looks just like it) because it’s so stained but maybe I’m not using the right cleaning method. Readers – any hints on cleaning vintage cast iron porcelain sinks that are badly stained?

    Actually, the black countertop would look pretty fab with the white cabinets, pink appliances and grey/burgundy floor. Maybe I could add a touch of black to the floor?

    Riki –

    I love the lino idea with the liner and the border! Should the liner and the border be the same measurement? Or should the liner be alot skinnier than the border? I will for sure get a professional install…unfortunately, painting is about the only thing I can do myself!

  13. Jen8 says

    Red linoleum—I have it still behind the refrigerator, but someone already replaced the countertops with white. The red is very deeply shaded kind of marbled with white. Bet it looked nice back when the wood cabinets were painted light pink and there was wallpaper with birdcages and pink plum blossom branches.

  14. Julie Rogers says

    Sigh. I want that kitchen. We’ve been trying to figure out exactly what to do with the kitchen. Now I know: That Pyrex pic.
    Sure, it’s a decade early, but time to throw caution to the wind. Red counters and green Marmoleum, here I come!

  15. says

    I just got our vintage laundry sink refinished. I was forewarned to be more careful with it than the original sink as its refinished finish is more fragile. When we were trying to confirm that it would fit into its vanity, it chipped easily in two areas which were repaired by the refinisher despite I was told it wasn’t under warranty. Altho it currently looks great, it is what it is: a laundry sink which isn’t subject to much public scrutiny. I am ready for its inevitable dings.

  16. says

    retropink57 — check around for a company that specializes in linoleum and tell them what you want to do. They should be able to help with the particulars. I think the border should be wide (12-16 inches) with a 1 or 2 inch liner. It will depend on the overall size of your kitchen. Work it out on paper in advance so you can show them.

    I tried embedding a link to an image that I thought might be helpful but I don’t think it took it. So here goes: http://www.flickr.com/photos/10197266@N05/2668948064/in/set-72157606545879111/ .

    I found it a while back. It’s a Crane plumbing ad. I want that kitchen. I love it.

    Rikki

  17. retropink57 says

    Rikki –

    I LOVE that kitchen…that is exactly what I want!! The linoleum pattern is awesome as well as the color scheme. It’s perfect…thank you for sending it my way!

    Pam –

    Great post! What about the red-violet and the concrete marmoleum in the pattern that Rikki suggested from the 1947 kitchen? I also liked the creamy white marmo with the dark splotchy streaks.

  18. Femme1 says

    I just happen to be watching “The Best Years of Our Lives” tonight, and if you want to see some great late 40s interiors, check it out. Besides, it’s one of the greatest movies of all time.

  19. Carleton Heights Girl says

    Thank you Pam and Rikki! Like retropink57, I absolutely LOVE the black, white, grey and maroon colour palette shown in Rikki’s link. I’m going to try to go for that look for the kitchen restoration later this summer. Lots of inspiration here!

    Growing up in this house, I do remember the kitchen looking very similar to the one in the Pyrex ad (minus the dark green floor), but I’m not too fond of the chartreuse walls.

    I’m still not certain if an Elkay stainless steel sink/countertop/drainboard would fit in with this look. Although I love the look of cast iron enamel sinks, I really like the sheer practicality of the stainless steel Elkay unit. Is stainless steel appropriate to the immediate postwar period? What do you think?

  20. says

    CHG & Others —
    If you want stainless steel for your counters or sinks you can easily do that as a stainless steel product called Monel was in use and shown in a variety of ads including a lot of the pre-WWII ads for Armstrong like this one.

    I am torn between a stainless steel sink and a granite composite, but leaning toward the steel. My house is 1948 vintage and mangled so I’m mostly concerned about sustainability.

  21. Mick says

    Hey pam! I have 2 questions 1940’s white kitchen cabinets were the norm right? And #2 What are your views on “Burlap” as a wall covering? There is a Mesuem in Kansas I visted of an “all electric 1950’s house” and the entry way was done in tan burlap on the walls. Iv almost talked myself into painting the panelling. For now insted of tackeling the Living room and bedroom, I think im gonna start from the kitchen and go from there. Iv already tracked down a Vintage fridge to put in, and im looking for an electric stove 40’s 50’s if such a thing exsists!
    For the Kitchen, the counter tops are the vintage brown, (just like my other house) I think im gonna paint the cabinets white, and For the walls in the kitchen a pretty Blue. NOT POWDER BLUE!!! but somthing bolder? Maybe somewhere between Aqua and sky?!

    haha I hate starting over!!!

    -Mick-

  22. jane says

    I use regular dishwasher soap to whiten my vintage castiron sink and drain board. I discovered this by accident. dont leave it on too long as I am not sure what would happen. I NEVER wash vintage dishware or glass in a dishwasher because they were not made to withstand the caustic nature of the detergent. over time a film will appear which is really the glaze breaking down. I gladly rinse out by hand my vintage everyday stuff

    I have a set of contemporary (newish)fiestaware which is dishwasher and microwave safe, and comes in great retro colors for everyday use.

  23. MissMessy says

    Where to begin.. I’m on the verge of purchasing a sprawling 1940 california ranch, quite neat she is and I’d love to restore her to a more period-appropriate state, but almost the ENTIRE interior is decked out in 6 inch wide, gold varnished, deep textured wood paneling; it darkens the whole place.. umm.. I’ve been considering stripping & whitewashing the panels in alternating, slightly contrasting light colors, though the wallpaper background on this very page has even given me pause for thought, I could easily hand detail the looping cartoony woodgrain and swirl it around those fabulous 50’s star motifs as knots.. I’m a tattooer and am very open to creative ideas, the more hands-on the better.. What do you readers suggest? I’d hate to see the paneling go.. I’m tacky, I know.. ;)

  24. Neil says

    I just know my sister in Nashville would kill for a Purple (!) Cracked Ice toilet seat for her 40’s bathroom! Simply divoon.

  25. Melissa Welch (@WelchWgrapes) says

    Was a styles of home furnishings in the 1940’s,50’s and even early 60’s that were called ‘Chinese Modern’ and the other being.’Hawiian Modern’? I know of the Chinese Modern although I can find neither of them on the internet..

  26. Adam Douglas says

    Wow a rose colored bathroom was quite the thing in suburban California late-40s (and early 50s) tract homes. My grandparents had a 1949 built house with a rose colored bathroom. Even the toilet and bathtub were made out of this dusky rose porcelain. The countertop was ivory blonde formica with gold flakes in it. Phew. When they sold the home, the new owners couldn’t rip it out fast enough.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *