1940s decor — 32 pages of designs and ideas from 1944

1940s kitchenLet's-decorate-1944We know that many of our readers love 1940s decor. To be sure, there’s a lot to like! For example, this 1940s kitchen — with its lovely green cabinetry, bits of red scattered about the room and that fantastic linoleum floor — is just calling me to come inside and spend an afternoon baking pies. For some, creating these kinds of rooms is easy — others may need a little help, especially if the room they start out with is less than ideal. Luckily this week’s vintage catalog provides lots of ideas and inspiration. The catalog was directed by Hazel Dell Brown — an amazing historical figure, the longtime queen of interior design at Armstrong.

scrapbook-ideasThis vintage catalog is formatted to feel like a scrap book of ideas that Hazel Dell Brown has collected over time. She has “hand written notes” scrawled in the margins and little sketches here and there to illustrate her ideas. What a charming format for what is basically an Armstrong linoleum sales brochure.

laminate-flooring-inlays-1940Linoleum floors were common in 1940s decor


The catalog contains several ideas specific to linoleum patterns — which were super common in 1940s decor. Hazel points out that this flooring can come to the rescue when a room’s furnishings are undistinguished. Remember, in 1944, we were at war. Materials were scarce. From the sounds of this catalog, folks were making do with the furniture they had and adding spiff around the edges.

uses-for-laminateThe catalog also shows  different ways that linoleum can be used — including on kitchen counter tops. Today, we hear often from readers who find remnants of vintage flooring in closets and at the bottom of cabinets. Precautionary Pam notes: Remember that old materials can contain old nastiness like asbestos and lead; consult with a properly licensed professional to determine what you have in your house so that you can then make informed decisions how to handle. With flooring: Remember also that this precaution extends to adhesives, too. Basically, Pam reminds: Get with a properly licensed professional to assess all your layers when you move in, then again, if and when you contemplate disturbing anything.

vintage-1940s-kitchen-and-living-areaBut now on to the meat of the catalog — the decorating ideas. Today, some of these decorating ideas may seem… over the top. But remember, this was war-time. Homemakers likely only had paint, fabric and — yes, flooring — to spice up their interiors. Look at ‘most any magazine of 1940s decor aimed at the middle class, and the ladies were painting and stenciling and embroidering and slipcovering. There was a lot of applied embellishment. You made do.

vintage-1940s-pennsylvania-dutch-kitchenarmstrong linoleum 5352And here’s another example of the Pennsylvania Dutch style — shown with a brick patterned linoleum floor that amplifies the warmth from the fireplace across the entire room. Oh, how we wish we could get this floor — and even more so, the famous #5352 — today.



1940s-decorThe use of warm and rich colors in this space — combined with the symmetrical arrangement of furniture — make for a calm, cozy and inviting living area. Of particular note — the way that linoleum inlays were used in conjunction with a small area rug to visually create one larger area rug. Using a small cloth rug with a less expensive linoleum floor inlay underneath is a smart way to “have a bigger rug” without the added expense.


1940s decor dining roomThis example of a linoleum inlay works with the design and furniture layout of the room. We instantly know that the focal point of the room is the dining table and chairs — because it is in the center of the room and has been “pointed to” with the linoleum inlaid floor. It is only after we have taken in the table that our eyes wander to the red draperies, the pie cabinet and yes — the red ceiling. This room is so 1940s decorating style. It makes me want to paint a  ceiling a bright color. What a fun idea.

1940s decor bedroomHere, Hazel cleverly uses curtains to add a space in the master bedroom for the new baby. Once again, notice the repetition of the scalloped shapes in the valance, on the curtains and the table skirt. One of the key elements of design is repetition, and Hazel shows us how.

Four 1940s bathroom designs

1940s decor bathroomThe bathroom above is my personal favorite from the catalog. The die cut rosettes and scalloped design that are inlaid into the floor are so sweet — to me, the epitome of 1940s decor. Notice how both the flowers and the scallops are repeated throughout the room — making for a cohesive and feminine space. There is an Armstrong linoleum product on the wall — “Linowall” — too.

vintage-green-and-brown-bathroom-with-laminate-inlaid-floorThe star and ribbon inlay in this bathroom’s linoleum floor is so much fun — it is also interesting to note that the mirror seems to have been painted with a ribbon to coordinate. And, check out the vanity — is the counter simply made of layers of glass?

Vintage-green-and-yellow-laminate-floored-bathThis sunny bathroom has a space for everyone — gym locker style — but is made to feel like home with thoughtful decoration, cheery colors, hanging greenery around the window and personalized names to label each family member’s individual space.

vintage-peach-and-grey-bathroomHere’s another thoughtful bathroom, packed with storage — notice how the tub is pretty much “built in” to the storage in front of it. This actually seems like a pretty darn good idea.

Two 1940s studio apartment designs

vintage-living-room-1940sLook at all the function that is packed into this well designed and decorated space. This design — which is an extra bedroom the homeowner wanted to rent to generate extra income — made a room for rent into a one room apartment instead. A day bed — used for seating or sleeping — eating area, kitchenette, and office space as well as room for storage. With this design, Hazel teaches us that good design can add value. Awesome wallpaper accent wall, Hazel! And, the medium blue paired with chartreuse and just a touch of rose — gorgeous. This is a lovely, lovely room.

vintage-yellow-and-green-living-roomThis last room is yet another example of remodeling a single space into a room that serves many purposes. This example is described as an unused attic space that was converted into a livable one room apartment — complete with bathroom and kitchen. You hardly notice the sloped ceiling due to a masterful visual trick — using a dark and bold wallpaper to accent the straight and tall walls at the end of the room — and painting the slanted portion of the ceiling a light-reflecting cheery yellow. Keeping the color scheme simple also unifies the various functional spaces and makes the room feel larger than it is.

To see all of Hazel Dell Brown’s thoughtful decorating solutions to common problems, view the slideshow below.


Special thanks to MBJ Collection and archive.org for making this vintage catalog available via Creative Commons license.

Tips to view slide show: Click on first image… it will enlarge and you can also read my captions… move forward or back via arrows below the photo… you can start or stop at any image:?

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  1. tammyCA says

    I knew that Early American Colonial gained popularity with the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg…just didn’t know it was actually in the ’20s. It was such a popular decor (with lots of pewter ware) in the ’40s that a lot of the movie stars had it in their homes..always love seeing their homes in the vintage magazines. I also think patriotism during WWII kept it popular. “I love Lucy” also had EA especially in the Connecticut house.

  2. Catherine says

    I love the brightly-colored ceilings! One tiny detail I’ve been zeroing in on as I’m preparing to paint my new (to me) 1940’s minimal traditional is visible in the living room picture with the black tree-motif fireplace: the narrow crown molding is painted to match the walls, not the ceiling. Currently in my house it is done the other way around and it has looked unbalanced to me since I first laid eyes on it. So I started looking at ads and designer illustrations from the period, and in each case a narrow crown molding like that matched the wall, other painted trim on the wall, or a color in the wallpaper pattern. Some of the illustrations were of Dorothy Draper designs, so I figured she knew what she was doing, and I looked up her book Decorating Is Fun!, in which she gave exactly that advice for the average home. (She did treat wider crown moldings with higher ceilings differently, with lovely results.)

    House Beautiful has a slide show of seven of Draper’s designs that would be appropriate in middle-class homes at http://www.housebeautiful.com/decorating/dorothy-draper-designs#slide-1.

    • Jay says

      Thanks for the link! DD had a distinct style well suited for that era. She was responsible for the redecoration of the Green Briar Resort in the 40s/50s when they undertook a major redecoration/expansion.

  3. Dan Hermann says

    Actually, I believe the Colonial Revival goes back even a little farther, to about 1900, when Stanford White adopted it for a major commission.
    CR, like everything else, can be done well or badly. When I was a kid in the 50s, growing up in Chautauqua Institution (Google it), it was all the vogue to take these fabulous Victorian homes and “Colonialize” them. Some real atrocities resulted. Always the way, ain’t it?
    I find many of the CR houses of the late 30s thru the early 50s interesting, because most of them were a stripped down version of the original Colinial style. Very distinctive.
    Anyhow, for this guy who’s still fixing up a very Deco, or Streamline Modern, as it were, apartment from 1937, up here in the Bronx, these images are a real treat, and tremendously useful. The design ideas of the actual war years have gotten very much lost in the shuffle. Thanks, Pam!

    • Dan Hermann says

      BTW, tho the linoleum may not be available, there are a lot of wall paper patterns that are very similar that you can find on Ebay. Not cheap, but they’re they kind of thing where only one wall’s worth or less can make a big statement.

  4. Jennifer says

    We currently have the style # 08, emerald green marble “Marbelle” linoleum in our 1942 colonial revival’s entry hall. It has held up great. Anyone know the best wax to use on it? I want to make it shine again!

  5. Shari D. says

    These are all fabulous illustrations of the possibilities of past eras. Like some of the rest of you, I too feel like I came along way too late! But after studying the social histories of this decade, there are some things I’m surely glad I missed out on!
    As for the decorating though, I imagine during the actual War years, there was a lot more focus on War production and other war-related jobs that an enormous percentage of the population were involved in, most especially the women, who were called up “for the duration” to free the men for the fighting work. In addition to “keeping the home fires burning,” being responsible for all the things the men left behind, tending Victory Gardens that produced about 40% of the vegetables needed for civilian use, dealing with “cooking from scratch” as usual in the face of rationing and the lack of prepared or convenience foods, they worked at War jobs too. An amazing percentage of the female population were involved in the Military as well as War production, and replacing the men at all the civilian jobs that were left vacant when the men went off to war. All the single women went to work first who were not already employed, followed by the married women who could (without babies and toddlers to take care of) when there were no more single girls to employ, then the older women! Amazed the men were though at what we could actually DO when the chips were down and we were needed away from diaper/kitchen/cleaning duties!
    Still, the old attitudes died hard, if at all, and women were never paid the same as men in the same jobs, even the women who later on TRAINED THE MEN who moved to other jobs or joined a different facility later on during the conflict, and the old “double standard” still ruled the roost most of the time.
    Like you said though, all materials were quite scarce, with paint, papering and fabric creations being pretty much all there was to deal with.
    Even fabrics though were scarce, with the War Production boards putting clothing on the “endangered list,” declaring how clothing was to be constructed to conserve fabrics. They were responsible for the size and number of pockets, single-breasted men’s suits instead of double, narrower lapels, the number of buttons that could be used on a single garment, the turned-under depth (and height!) of hemlines, the number and size of pleats and gathers, shorter sleeves being preferred over long, cuffs disappearing from mens’ pants, and women’s coats that just met in the front with very little overlap. Even the use of elastics even came under fire when the sources of natural rubber dried up because there were no more imports from the countries that produced it. Shoes came under the sharp eye of the Board, rationing leather, encouraging the fads of fabric sandals and espadrilles, fabric covered heels that were usually wood underneath, open toed shoes and so on.
    All to conserve every scrap available to furnish materials for the uniforms and other fabric needs of the military. No, they didn’t wear the colors and the types of fabrics civilians did – it started with the raw materials and how they were put to use. Even farmers were brought in to the fray, being directed by the Government to plant much more flax than they ever did before, in order to get the fibers to make parachute cords and webbing, ropes and other durable, heavy material needed to provide their needs.
    Of course we know that silk hosiery, rapidly followed by the new nylon stockings, went to the war effort as well, and being replaced by leg makeup with eyebrow pencil being used to recreate the seams of the day that indicated a woman was wearing stockings. Soon enough, socks were being worn by every age, and barelegged women were being seen as “Patriotic” giving up their stockings for the effort!
    Many women re-purposed old clothing like never before, cutting their dresses apart to remake them into newer styles, or cutting them down to fit younger sisters and daughters. Children’s clothing was also remade from older siblings’ clothing, and Dad’s old suits were cut down to fit the older sons. The phrase “Waste Not Want Not” was joined by others, such as “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, Or Do Without!” And for folks who had just crawled out from under one of the most crushing economic depressions since the Civil War, it was something they were not unfamiliar with. But they were surely getting weary of having to keep on doing it! Especially with all the new War productions jobs making unemployment a thing of the past; women joining the men who could not go to war as well as the ones who were deferred for Essential War Work, and earning their own incomes and still finding their spending curtailed because there wasn’t much left to buy, except War Bonds, which were encouraged at every turn, even at the movies and by Bugs Bunny!! This produced an amazing pool of spendable cash at the end of the War and in the years following, producing that seemingly unending source of cash with which to buy everything they could get their hands on when the production economy reverted back to civilian goods instead of War materiel.

    I was surprised that nobody else mentioned this, and I read every comment to make sure I wasn’t duplicating someone else’s efforts, but I noticed something particularly special in the blue “Baby Themed” bathroom. The “wall” with all the little shelves on it, just to the left of the bathinette, is actually a very shallow hinged section of shelves attached to the back of the door, which probably opened either to the hallway, or the Master Bedroom, or even a closet! It surely appears as a “False Back” to the door when the shelves were closed up against the door. It’s a shame we can’t see the other side of it, to be able to tell if it were painted to match and therefore disappear against the door, or if it were painted a contrasting color that might even match the other colors of the theme of the bathroom! What a cool idea, even for today, for rooms short on storage space, even though this bathroom doesn’t seem to be lacking it. Also love the towel shelves at the end of the short bathtub wall!

    • cheryl says

      Just wanted to say thank you very much Shari for your explanation. I had always wondered where all the money came from for all those new purchases after the war. I knew people during the war were being very frugal but it never dawned on me until you said something, but hey, they were making money during the war they just had nothing to spend it on.

      Thanks again, I enjoyed reading all that.

  6. hollie says


    I have a 1943 bunglow and we are redoing the kitchen. I don’t know how authetic everything will be but we are having a great time faking stuff. For example we deffinately NEED a dish washer but we didn;t want it to mess up the look of our old fashion kitchen so we built a cabinet that looks like an old ice box but it really just hides the dishwasher :) But I was writing to tell you how we got the “brick Floor” in the Pennsylvania Dutch style kichen above. I saw that pict on another site and it was the inspiration for the kitchen floor. We found some 6″ x 6″ red quarry tile at our local Habitat for Humanity restore for really cheap. We used a tile snapper to cut them in half so they where 3″ x 6″ (which is the same as most subway tiles). Then we layed a harring bone “Carpet” in the middle of the room with regual brick pattern running bond around the outside. It turned out great and it looks just like the brick floor in the Pennsylvania Dutch style kitchen. We love it!

  7. says

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  8. Victoria says

    It’s amazing how many interesting historical details you can glean from this brochure. I like the way the first photo is showing a kitchen set up to can tomatoes. That’s very much a WWII activity.
    Fixing up an older house was a necessity — new housing starts were pretty much banned during the war. Also, if you lived near any industrial center, there was a chronic housing shortage — so being able to turn a room or attic into an apartment was really important.
    What a great document!

    • pam kueber says

      Yes, you are absolutely right about the housing shortage — and the design ingenuity required to accommodate the growing population in the face of it!

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