Designer room interiors of 1946

How to Be a Retronaut picks out the best of a 1946 portfolio of designer room interiors from the Internet Archive. Above, a room I would live in in a heartbeat. Right, a swell kitchen.

Portfolio of Room Interiors, 1946


  1. That’s the first time that I’ve seen Chinese Chippendale rendered in linoleum.   We had this kitchen floor, but in the rust/gold/orange colorway.

  2. Nice use of normally wasted stairway wall.

    On that page, side link to “celebrity yearbook”, George Clooney looks like young Melvin Frohike from the Lone Gunmen:

    1. My wife loves “built ins” like that book case.  The more you really start looking at them the more you realize most aren’t truly built in to save space.  The designers use lots of subtle tricks to make the missing floor space seem natural.  Personally I’ve always been mesmerized by the space that a stair way takes up.  Unless that door under the stairs leads to the basement then why not make some cubby holes/drawers/something toward the end of the stairs.  Also the open space above stairs irritates me as well…maybe one day I’ll get around to making that some storage space.

  3. Not bad. Head and shoulders above the horrible , burnt-orange-and-avacado horrors of the 1970s.

    I’d prefer modern wood laminate flooring, or tasteful kitchen tile, over the stark linoleum though.

    1. I’m assuming your passionate put-down of nineteen-seventies design is based on it being the design epoch of your childhood? Because otherwise, what a weird specificity to your judgment.

      Incidentally, those “burnt orange and avocado” fans were as convinced of the “modernity” of their choices as you are of your wood laminate flooring, which I guarantee you future generations will find as period-damning as shag carpet in the colors you mention. Aesthetically, they’re not much different.

      1. Maybe the burnt-orange-and-avocado was the acceptable version of seventies style for mass consumption. It wasn’t particularly pleasant. I remember much more vivid colours, yellows, purples, oranges and greens – all sorts of colours, really.

        1. But that’s just it: I don’t despise burnt orange, or avocado. Damning them because of ones memories of a design era (I was born in 1960, so I was immersed in seventies design during some formative tears) is idiotic.
          It’s become de rigeur to hate on one’s childhood’s design aesthetic. It’s just short-sighted and destructive; a large part of why so many Victorian marvels were razed and smugly replaced with “modernity.”

          1. There is good design and bad design. Design solves practical problems. Is a chair comfortable to sit on? Are bookshelves easy to reach? Unless someone can demonstrate that avocado bathroom suites increase the crime rate or reduce divorce colour is not a problem of design but fashion. Fashion is concerned with membership of a group and we are all much more ambivalent towards it than towards design. The advertisers convince us that what is simply a question of fashion is actually good design and we fall for it.

        2. Below, you’re describing industrial design, but design has always encompassed form and function. And color is certainly an aspect of form, in this equation.
          By your own logic, those comfortable chairs and accessible bookshelves would have to solve crime or lower divorce rates in order to qualify as design. Makes little sense.

          To say that “there is good design and bad design” is true subjectively, but that seems pretty self-defeatingly limiting in any discussion of design.

          As a designer, I don’t understand relegating the notion of color to fashion, stripping it of relevance as a design element, but I suppose that’s just subjectivity on my part. But to claim that fashion inspires ambivalence: I think fashion (not by any means defending it, or elevating it) has inspired far more passion than design has, contemporarily, at least using your definitions.

          I’ll just never get the determination of specific colors as universally good or bad, pleasant or “unpleasant.” So much so, I guess that I feel compelled to protect their honor in online forums. : )

          1. I was simply giving two extreme ideal cases.
            A chair or bookcase has a relatively simple function which it either does or does not perform well. Colours may or may not have psychological effects in which case they are also a problem of function.
            Of course you cannot separate characteristics such as colour, texture, odour from physical form.
            There is always cross-over and compromise between form and function.
            Fashion can also be function.
            I think I should have said colour is not ONLY a problem of design but ALSO fashion.

      2.  No sir, mrwittier!  Aesthetics are relative, except for the 70s.  They were an abomination unto the LORD.  You will never convince me otherwise.

        1. And this era gave us ubiquitous ass-crack jeans and flip-flops as office wear.

          Every era has design toxins.

  4. Thanks for turning me on to Retronaut. The spy photos of the British Suffragists (and the doctored photo) were incredible enough, but there’s hundreds (thousands?) more photos of us people taken throughout the history of photography. Mindblowing, to say the least.

  5. I would most happily live in that house. Although I would move or eliminate that lamp at the top of the stairs, which would bonk me in the head (or in the balls -can’t tell from this perspective) every time I walked up there.

    1. It looks as though the lamp is hanging just to the right of the bannister. You should be able to negotiate the stairs with your head and balls intact.

    2. At first glance, it read to me as not only a bird cage, but as Tweety Bird’s oversized, iconic cage, with Mr. Bird intact.
      Which is cool, because Sylvester would look thtunning precariously posed on those stairs, swatting at the cage with a broomstick.
      If only because he’d coordinate so nicely with the floor below, during his inevitable unplanned descent to meet it.

  6. While the bookshelf is a great touch, I find the interior decoration far too noisy for my minimalist, ADD addled tastes.

    I get distracted by potted houseplants, I’d hate to live in a place with tessellations, fractals, and bright colors everywhere.  I’d end up studying all the cracks along the baseboards and looking for the repeats in the wallpapers.

    My house OTOH is quite bland.  White walls w/ fine, nearly unnoticable orange peel texture.  Matte finish on the fixtures, and the only books on my shelves are ones I’ve read often enough to know by heart.  Otherwise I’d never get any work done, what with all of the interesting patterns to count, non-uniform and asymmetrical finishes to sand down, and enthralling literature to read.

    1.  I can easily accept your critiques. But I’m not sure that you’re allowed to use the terms tessellation and fractal while discussing mid-1940s decor. 
      Just sayin’   :D 

      1. Heh, yeah.

        While I concede that fractals weren’t in public knowledge during the 1940s (the Mandelbrot Set was first illustrated in the late 1970s) I stand by my use of the term tessellation. They’ve been known and common in art for over a thousand years, and I’m pretty sure the word tessellation has been in use since the dawn of geometry within the english language

        1. Of course you are correct about tessellation.  (Mouth shot off before brain engaged).    Cheers.

  7. Surprisingly chic stuff.  Love the Tom, Dick and Larry kid’s room with a triple (or would that be double?) trundle.

    Tom . . . Dick . . . Larry . . . time for supper!

  8. I went around Frank Lloyd Wright’s home in Chicago. Built around the 1900s, and before his ranch style,it has stood the test of time really well – approaches you could stil use in a house today.

    On the brochure:
    The boys bedroom of the 1940s has a single shelf for each of the boy’s toys and books – a single shelf each.

    1. Yes, but also a desk and a cupboard. 

      They probably did have less junk than most Western kids today, but then again, they would have been allowed to roam for miles instead of just a hundred yards to the cul-de-sac.

  9. As a committed bibliomaniac, I find the bookcase is not functional. Even if those are all reference books, you have to lie on the stairs to even read the titles on the spines on half of them, and how are you meant to reach the ones on the top shelf at the bottom stair? Your library steps won’t balance on the stairs, and it means reaching over dangerously. Nope. Four out of ten. 

    1.  You’re absolutely right but calling those “reference books” is giving them too much credit. Those books obviously weren’t meant to be read. There’s a small section of un-matched spines which are the “real” books. The rest are an alternative to wall paper.

          1.  Perhaps with a 2’x2′ grate with 1″ spacing, leading to a biohazard conditioner?

            (Just did an IT job for a local hospital replacing old desktops.  I had to take a lot of trash to the dumpsters, and I’d never felt more imperiled than when standing next to the biohazard conditioner as it chugged along spewing noxious effluent (possibly containing ebola/MRSA/whatever infectious crap the machine was eating) out it’s bottom side into a grate in the floor.)

          2.  Idobe, I trust you were outfitted in the latest bio-haz ecutrements and are paid well w/health insurance, etc. and have a good union.

Comments are closed.