We 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.
This 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.
Linoleum 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.
The 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: I also want to relate that in her book “Linoleum”, Jane Powell says that while linoleum is known today for its use of renewable resources (cork, linseed oil, namely), heavy metals such as lead may have been used in the manufacturer of old linoleum. So — Precautionary Pam repeats: Be sure to test the materials in your old houses for vintage nastiness like lead, asbestos and more — get with your own properly licensed professional to determine what’s in your house and its layers, so that you can make informed decisions about how to handle. Be Safe / Renovate Safe.
But 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.
And 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.
The 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.
This 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.
Here, 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
The 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.
The 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?
This 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.
Here’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
Look 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.
This 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:?