A new home-owning confidence arose with the end of World War II in the 1950s, paired with a radically increased living standard following the Great Depression. This dynamic blend introduced an age of contemporary, liberating consumer culture that persisted throughout the decade.
Architecturally, the 1950s saw home design approached from the inside out, with blueprints now adapted to directly address the needs of the homeowners. Open floor plans and split level homes gained social acceptance. Windows beaming with natural sunlight became critical elements in these modern-day homes, obscuring the lines between natural and manufactured environments. Designers became free to express themselves in their use of construction, materials, textures and colors while housing the masses.
When comparing interior design of the 1950s to a 1957 Chevy advertisement, Pam Keuber of Retro Renovation summarized the 1950s color palette best as “a rainbow of eye-popping pastels”. If you have ever seen a 1950s-inspired pink kitchen or bathroom, Mamie Eisenhower was the true inspiration. The former First Lady was a mid-century fashion icon and pink was her signature color. Her husband sent her pink flowers every morning, she wore pink gowns and jewelry and her homes were decorated in pink, including the private quarters at the White House during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s term as President of the United States. Mamie popularized the color so much that American women returning to the home following World War II dreamed of remaking their domiciles with “First Lady Pink”. This trend of pink kitchens and baths remained strong from 1953 to 1957, when other fads began to take hold.
Another popular design of the time, Early American style includes paneling, brick fireplaces with Colonial-style molding, maple furniture, Americana wallpaper, plaids and traditional prints, heirloom pieces from Colonial days. Knotty pine and resilient floor tile projects were DYI favorites, due to some lagging Great Depression-era mentality. Knotty pine fit well with the Early American aesthetic of the time and was relatively inexpensive to install, which benefited anyone with lagging Great Depression-era mentality. Resilient floor tile was versatile, functional and easy to install, making it a marketer’s choice to target to the lady of the house to install herself.
Desired furniture of the 1950s wasn’t new; it was actually a carryover of the pre-war Streamline style – designed to resemble the movement of a Streamliner train. So 1950s furniture was actually 1940s furniture whose production had come to a screeching halt during the war, when discretionary items were manufactured only to meet immediate demand.
Mass production became a big deal that would soon sweep the nation, from Formica countertops to matching washer and dryer sets. Things that made keeping house easier were immediate successes, like plastic counters, gas and electric stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, indoor plumbing…all technological advances that crept into the average American home after World War II.
It’s always interesting to see how a person is inspired by their living space, and vice versa. In what style was your home designed? Have you done any historical research on your property? Is it a newer home inspired by another era? Is there a certain style that you’re more drawn to?