Bathrooms of the 1940s reflected the American sentiment of the time. Pam Kueber, of Retro Renovation, describes eight distinctive characteristics of 1940s style: innocent, sentimental, sunny, sanitary, patriotic and traditional, spiced with an appreciation of Hollywood glamour and the streamlined Art Deco style of the '20s and '30s. Bathrooms moved from being strictly utilitarian to a room with color and personality. Cleanliness and efficiency were important since a single bath was typically shared by everyone in the household, and room sizes were small by today's standards.
Built-to-Last Fixtures Dominate
Typical bathroom fixtures of the 1940s were white; however, some color was available early in the decade and continued to gain in popularity following World War II. Tubs were no longer free-standing appliances on feet but were built into a wall alcove, sat flush with the floor, and often had a shower option. Some tubs had a fluted edge at the top and angled corners that recalled Art Deco design, and corner tubs were introduced. All tubs were heavy cast iron with a porcelain-enameled finish. Porcelain-enameled sinks were free-standing on pedestals or with chrome-plated pipes and legs in view beneath. Faucets usually combined hot and cold water from a single tap, although individual taps for hot and cold were around. Bathroom floor plans often included a privacy alcove for toilet placement.
Colorful Walls Build Style
Bathrooms had various combinations of wallpaper, paint and tile on the walls in 1940s bathrooms. Ceramic tile from floor to ceiling in the tub alcove gained popularity in the latter part of the decade. Other walls might be tiled to the height of wainscoting -- anywhere between 32 inches and two-thirds of the wall height -- and topped with an attractive contrasting border tile. The wall above the tile was painted or wallpapered. Drywall became a common substitute for plaster during the war years, and its popularity continued to grow in the building boom following the war.
Focus on Floors
Linoleum most often covered 1940s bathroom floors. Linoleum tiles added pattern, while wall-to-wall sheets of linoleum were also available. Some linoleum had large-scale, flamboyant incised floral patterns or wide stripes to add contrast and flair. Linoleum in a traditional red brick pattern combined with Colonial-style decor. Soft, fluffy rugs in attention-getting colors added a layer of warmth and texture to cold floors.
Accessories Add Bathroom Pizzazz
Chrome, echoing the gleam of pipes and handles on fixtures, appeared on many bathroom accessories, including towel bars, built-in soap dishes, wastebaskets and tissue boxes. Glass bricks added an airy feeling of modernity and privacy in room dividers and windows. Large mirrors increased the perception of size in bathrooms that were often small by today’s standards. Fabric shower curtains were sometimes replaced by sliding glass doors late in the decade. Over-scaled florals in wallpaper patterns and fabrics and fluffy rugs and ruffled curtains feminized the spaces. Built-in storage made smaller-sized rooms more efficient. Sometimes fabric skirts enclosed pipes under sinks to provide additional storage.
- Photo Credit Joe Gough/iStock/Getty Images
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