Decor through the Decades

I've been wanting to do a post on design through the decades for quite a while. It wasn't until Nick went out of town on a work trip this past week that I actually had some time to buckle down and research and write during the evenings. You see, I just have the hardest time not spending time with him when he's home and the kids are down for the night. ;)

So, without further ado, I present to you my interpretation the home design from the 1940's to the 1980's. Please bear in mind, the style boards I've put together have a modern take to them. I wanted to create looks that could easily be executed in present-day homes without looking dated or like the set of a movie, so I added a few pieces to each board that are decidedly 2014 looks. Almost every piece displayed can be purchased, or something similar can be purchased, online.

I realize there are many design styles in any given decade, but I have done my best to highlight some of the more popular and noteworthy looks of each era. Keep in mind, the most en vogue looks of a particular time period often take years to trickle down to the average home. Since furnishings and decor items are collected over time, most real homes possessed, and possess, looks from several decades at one time.


I'll start of with one of my favorite decades! The 1940's were largely set in wartime, on the heels of an economic depression. The design style present during this time was modest, traditional and romantic. Patriotism was at its peak. People couldn't stomach being extravagant in their home decor when young, American men were dying on foreign soil. There was a coziness to homes during this decade because it was a place of comfort and solace during a tumultuous time. Lines were soft and details were both utilitarian and sweet. While putting this look together, I realized just how much I have, unconsciously, gravitated towards this style in my own home decor. 


Another favorite decade of mine. The 1950's were very much a deviation from the modesty of the 40's. The war was over and people were ready to settle down, have families and show off their new-found prosperity. It was a hopeful time. Furniture lines became cleaner and sleeker with the heyday of Charles and Ray Eames' design work and the permeation of Danish modern design in America. Color schemes became brighter and colorful appliances, newly available in more than just white, were all the rage. Towards the end of the 50's you also saw an influx of celestially inspired decor, or atomic design, as space exploration and the race against the USSR heated up. 


The 1960's was an era of rebellion against the establishment and youthful exuberance. Design became more playful and less formal. The Brady Bunch and their astroturfed,
California ranch reigned supreme on the airwaves each week. Floral patterns and mismatched colors took center stage in homes, along with unconventionally shaped furniture and architecture. Plastics, produced via new manufacturing techniques, and the endless possibilities this flexible medium offered opened the door to more unconventional and creative design. What we know today as the Mid-Century Modern school of design gathered even more steam and a trend towards simplicity and de-cluttered spaces was reflected in streamlined decorscapes.


In reaction to the candy coated, shellacked aesthetic of the 1960's, the 1970's design style gravitated back to nature. Homes were adorned in earth tones, wood paneling and natural fibers. The outside came in and hanging plants and terrariums became popular. Comfort became equally as important as style, as evidenced by the movement of wall to wall carpeting, often of the shag nature, and sound-proofing popcorn ceilings. I've been in a number of truly 70's style homes and can't help but dislike how dark they all feel. However, it's interesting to see that many 1970's trends are coming back, against the backdrop of open, white walls and airy, minimalist homes. I find I like the design style much better in its reinvented state.


The 1980's were characterized by Reaganomics, big hair and financial success (or at least the appearance of financial success). The nouveau riche of this decade spared no expense to deck their homes out in gilded, often gaudy, decor. It was difficult for me to put this board together, because I find so many of the looks of this decade tacky. Maybe it's just because I was a child during this time. In combing through 80's decor styles, one thing I can appreciate is the nod they gave to the 1920's Art Deco movement and the juxtaposition of pastels and black. The 80's saw a wave of decor trends that ran the gamut-- from Miami Vice to Southwestern inspired. Floral chintz fabrics and lace took center stage as the decade wrapped up-- giving way to another shift in design towards the more grounded looks of the 1990's.

Beyond the 1980's, it's hard for me to define or interpret where style has gone. Perhaps it's easier to see patterns the farther away you get from them. Or perhaps, having lived these more recent decades as an adult, I am too aware of the many iterations of design styles in each year, let alone decade.

I can remember there being a lot of country looks happening in the 90's, also some 1930's inspired lines in sofas, lamps and tables. The 90's definitely started off in cooler color pallets with a lot of dusty blue, teal and sea foam green, morphing in the mid 90's into burgundy and hunter green plaids and giving way, at the start of the 2000's, to lots and lots of variations of browns, tans and reds.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on where decor styles have been and where they are going. Ultimately, there is never really anything new under the sun and what you see as fresh and new now has its origin in a bygone era. I love history and I love design, so I find this sort of thing fascinating. What about you? Do you have a favorite, historical design period? Do tell!

And now I must go decompress from the creative frenzy going on in my brain! Good night!


  1. I loved this, Stephanie. Such a good resource. I feel like there's something I like from every era. I got me thinking back to the interview you did on my blog, and the importance of picking an "imaginary inhabitant" of my home, so I can stick to one or two styles. :)

  2. Thanks, friend! I'd love to hear who your "imaginary inhabitant" is! And I agree. There are things from every era that I really love. :)


Related Posts with Thumbnails