Are you wondering what 1940s furniture looks like? This is a guide to 1940s furniture design styles from Europe and America, from ruffles to plywood, and the beginnings of a Scandinavian design craze that we still have today!
Make Do and Mend
Given the historic events of the time, it’s impossible to talk about furniture styles in the 1940s without acknowledging the impact of World World II, which lasted until 1945. Resources were scarce because most material was diverted to the war effort, so it was rare for homes to be repainted or refurnished during this time. From the 1930s there was still furniture passed on through families, wooden chairs with upholstery, and curtains with pelmets. Make do and mend was a common refrain, during this time of austerity.
Floral Fabrics and Ruffles
Given the use of chemicals and dyes diverted to the war effort, there wasn’t much focus on color aesthetics in the early part of the 40s. This shifted, and soon you’d find colorful textiles; florals, pastels, and polka dots. Knitting and crochet was popular. Furniture was mostly wood, upholstered in fabric, but this changed as style shifted to a “Contemporary” look.
After the war, many European countries faced the task of rebuilding homes that had been decimated by bombing. Neighborhoods were being rebuilt, and this spurred on design. By the end of the decade, the average size of American homes got smaller as more families bought houses. The New York Times described this time as a “new silhouette” for living. The “Contemporary” style was a design that attempted to create an illusion of spaciousness. Furniture became lighter.
Think plywood is a modern invention? Think again. John C.F. Walker notes in Primary Wood Processing: Principles and Practice that even Egyptians and Chinese societies thousands of years ago worked with shaved wood glued together to create a new material. But it is Czarist Russia who is “credited for first making a form of plywood prior to the 20th century.” By the 1940s, plywood had proven itself a useful material during the war, and then promoted for use in residential construction.
Eames Lounge Chair Wood
Time Magazine calls it “the chair of the century.” Designed by husband and wife duo Charles and Ray Eames in 1945, the molded plywood chair is an icon of modern design. It was a striking change to the furniture of the time, which was often made of many components and covered in upholstery.
This material was popular as a floor covering, for its patterns and relative price point when spreading across a large area. But many people mostly associate lino with kitchens.
Thought that blush was “millenial” pink? This picture is from an Armstrong linoleum catalog from 1940.
Beginning of the Scandinavian Design Craze
The crush on Scandinavian home interior design isn’t all to blame on IKEA. The mid-century modern trend kicked off in the 40s with designers and architects from Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden.
As you can see, there are many strands that come together in 1940s furniture design, some that we still see today! With globalization, and the relocation of people around the world, the 40s is a decade that sparked a new style of design. From Scandinavian trends, to the brightening up of spaces, it’s a decade to acknowledge.
What has surprised you about 1940s furniture design? How does linoleum hold up for you now? Did we leave anything out? Let us know in the comments what your favorite pieces are in our comments section.