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100 Years of Home Decor

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 42 seconds

From the glamorous opulence of the 20’s through to the spare minimalism of current day, here’s how interior design trends and iconic styles have changed through the decades.

The Roaring 20’s

A 1920s French poster hangs above the bed in the main bedroom of Maryam Montague and Chris Redecke’s home in the countryside of Marrakesh, via House and Garden and Right – Australian photographer Nicolette Johnson’s 20’s revival home brings back the feel of bygone times with African art, geometric prints and modernist furniture.

This decade was known for its decadence and opulence, ending with the Wall Street Crash in 1929. In the mid 20’s, art deco became wildly popular in Paris, while modernism and Bauhaus architecture had also taken off throughout Europe. The combination of two styles gave birth to home decor which was glamorous and sophisticated, pairing austere geometric and angular structures with flashy decorative details made from chrome, glass, silk, and mirrors. In terms of decoration, the 20’s saw a rise in popularity of stylized images of planes, cars, cruise liners and urban landscapes, as well as nature motifs and oriental art from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Designers from this era soaked in inspiration from the glamorous world of early hollywood (think cocktail cabinets, cigar rooms and burlesque paraphernalia), as well as anything travel-related; from modes of transportation to souvenir objects like African safari animal skins, mother of pearl, turtoiseshell, and wooden busts.

The Sunny 30’s

Left- The amazing art nouveau interior of Hannon House, designed by architect Jules Brunfaut in 1903, Brussels, Belgium Right- 1930′s Dutch Artist Home by ZW6 Interior & Architecture
Left- The amazing art nouveau interior of Hannon House, designed by architect Jules Brunfaut in 1903, Brussels, Belgium
Right- 1930′s Dutch Artist Home by ZW6 Interior & Architecture

The 30’s were still economically thriving in Europe and in the US-  people moved in droves to the new suburbs, where they purchased their dream homes and equipped them with the latest looks. Interior decor was, by this point, highly influenced by modernism with its lack of colour, streamlined shapes and minimal ornamentation. Many buildings from this era replicated the look of ocean liners; re-contextualizing the curved sun-trap windows, steel railings and portholes that were common in the marines. Pseudo-historical styles also gained popularity, from mock-Tudor houses to neo-Georgian and Jacobean styles. Inside, decor tended towards boxy or streamlined shapes, Scandinavian design, art deco, and chrome finishings. Sunbathing was a favourite pastime  during the 30’s, leading many of homeowners to integrate flat roofs, pergolas, balconies and sun traps into their architecture.

The Functional 40’s

Left: Margie Grace’s new 1940s-revival kitchen. Right- The epitome of 1940’s bathroom design, with simple designs, a bright colour scheme and black linoleum. (Via Retro-Renovation)

The 1940s were a time of instability and scarcity; new design was halted in the first half of the decade and resources- material and otherwise- were rationed and directed towards the war, while the second half focused on rapid rebuilding.

In interior design, function and economy of scale were prioritized; open-concept floor plans, compact storage solutions and indoor/outdoor living were embraced by new homeowners.  “Kit homes” or “Build-it-Yourself” Homes also saw a rise in popularity as they were affordable option for middle-class families. The lavish decorations of the earlier years were toned down by traditionalism and an emerging taste for modernism. 40’s homes displayed characteristics of innocence, optimism, simplicity, cleanliness, patriotism, and traditionalism. Wooden furniture takes center stage, alongside linoleum, wall to wall carpeting, ruffles, bamboo, and wallpaper. In terms of decorations and colour palettes, there was a preference for strong, jewel-toned palettes with heavy contrast, abstract art, and floral patterns.

The Retro 50’s

The 1950s were the age of the consumer. The post-war boom revamped most aspects of the home; it was out with the old and in with the new. The fitted kitchen with its shiny new appliances and massive fridges was the housewife’s domain, and the central focus of the home. Diner aesthetics, bubblegum colours, Americana jukeboxes, neon-kitsch came to be the iconic looks of this period. Since houses were typically smaller, furniture had to be foldable and moveable, thereby introducing stacking furniture, trolleys and sofa beds to the design repertoire. Surrealism, for example the famous Salvador Dali ‘lips sofa,’ also extended its influences to interior design aesthetics with its experimental approach to form as well as its bold, primary colour palette.

The Groovy 60’s

Right- A 60
Right- A 60’s boho inspired home via Design Sponge. Right- A 60’s housewife in her perfect midcentury home. (Pierre Koenig)

The 1960s flowed with free love, flower power and waves of psychedelic synth but as the saying goes: if you remember it you probably weren’t there.

While the modernism and forward-thinking of the previous decades brushed aside historical influences, the 60’s embraced it with passion. The result was a hodgepodge of styles pulled from the Victorian ages, art nouveau, Edwardian and the 20’s. Pop art and op art also both fed into the 60’s home decor style by way of their bright, movement-simulating patterns and visual references to pop culture. Designers and homeowners in the 60’s decorated their living spaces with flowers, ornaments and rugs from faraway travels, space age furniture and disposable decor. It was… far out!

The Weird & Wonderful 70’s


The 70s were full of odd contradictions: austerity and decadence, earthy tones and bold primary colors, hippiedom and sci-fi futurism. Some say the entire decade was just a long hangover from the 60’s. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to overlook its contributions to interior decor. Above all, individuality and avant-guard subcultures formed the ground on which homes were remodelled and decorated. This gave way to some pleasant innovations, such as new energy efficient technologies formed as a eco-hippy reaction to household consumerism, and some forgettable ones such as furry toilet seat covers. Design tended to be colourful; anywhere on the spectrum from cheerful to funky to downright technicolored. With an increased nature-enthusiasm came indoor gardens, atriums, skylights, and ranch-home aesthetics. Other tell-tale signs of a 70’s home include macramé wall hangings, avocado green and orange wallpaper, timbered ceiling beams, exposed brick walls, geometric shapes, chunky masculine furniture, floating staircases, and open concept layouts. Aesthetic choices from this period tended to be laced with political ideology: a disenchantment with the excesses of consumerism, radical ideas about the sociology of family life (homes were designed to reintegrate children into family activities rather than hiding them in playrooms and nurseries), and concrete efforts towards environmentalism.

The Disco 80’s

Left: Right: Interior Design Magazine

The 80’s, with it’s unapologetic displays of excess, its lavish forms and wacky embodiment of mid-century colours schemes, has had a powerful influence on design which persists to this very day. The penchant for bold tones was carried over from the 60’s and 70’s but with a distinctive deep flavour of it’s own- geometric patchworks of coloured tile, pastels, neons and futuristic metallic hues take centre stage. Typical of the 80’s style is the reliance on basic geometric shapes and primary colours, which formed the basis for the much loved Memphis-Milano style.

The Awkward 90’s


In the 1990s home decorators tossed out the frills of the ’80s, stripped the wallpaper, and banished the neon and mirror accessories. The focus was put on large entertainment centres and family rooms, where the decor was arranged around the TV or computer. Taupe was the color of the decade. For a pop of color, homeowners painted accent walls or purchased brightly coloured carpets and sofa. Furniture was larger than ever. Sectional sofas were extremely popular, and the bigger the master bedroom suite the better.

The 2000’s and beyond – Less is More. 


With smaller living spaces and more mobility amongst both homeowners and tenants, home design has leaned towards minimalist Scandinavian design, and sustainability. The focus is on owning less, but purchasing higher quality pieces that will last longer. Simplicity is emphasized; spare and streamlined decor that highlights the materials and negative space rather than the structures themselves.

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