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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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. Maureen 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.

  4. Rikki 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. Rikki 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.

  9. 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-

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Hi Mick. I don’t know from an “academic standpoint” for sure, but from my scanning of vintage periodicals, I’d say that steel cabinets were for sure white… But wood cabinets had typical wood finishes. Here’s a highly reader-commented post on whether to paint wood cabinets: https://retrorenovation.com/2008/11/05/nancys-festive-retro-renovation-kitchen/

      I’ve never heard of burlap being used as wall covering. That’s not to say it wasn’t. And yes, there were electric stoves, you can see some at this site: http://antiqueappliances.com.

      For wall colors, try the Suburban Modern palette: https://retrorenovation.com/paint-colors/

  10. 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.

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