Home Decorating Styles of the 1920s

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The 1920s was a time of exciting change in America, with the invention of automobiles, telephones, radio and motion pictures. Modernism in art, architecture and design influenced decorating, reflected in Art Deco and Arts and Crafts styles. A simultaneous interest in Colonial Revival styles brought about a fusion of modern and traditional decorating.

Arts and Crafts Style

Inspired by the tropical way-station homes for travelers in India, bungalow-style homes were in high demand in the early 1920s. The simplistic cottage design blended seamlessly with Arts and Crafts-style architecture. Architects began to incorporate indigenous materials such as rock, local woods and metals like iron and copper. Characteristics of bungalow homes include:

  • Low-pitched gabled or hipped roofs
  • Large covered porches with the overhanging roofs supported by massive columns
  • Multiple windows and doors leading out to exterior porches or verandas
  • Broad eaves with exposed rafters
  • Ceiling beams and built-in cabinetry such as buffets, china cabinets and bookcases
  • Double-hung or casement windows with multiple lights in the upper window and a single pane on the lower, often in continuous banks

Bungalow homes feature simple, functional interiors with open floor plans. Kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms open up to each other, forming one large living area. Unity is achieved through the use of similar furnishings.

The straight, clean lines of Mission-style furniture complement the built-in bookcases, china cabinets, cabinetry, nooks and window seats, all stained the same color. Simple wainscoting sometimes include a plate rail in living rooms or dining rooms. Muted earth tone colors are used on walls.

Art Deco Style

The International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Decorative Arts, which took place in Paris in 1925, inspired a modern, glamorous look for art, furniture and decor and also inspired the name – Art Deco. Although the look was more prevalent in commercial architecture and in the big-city homes of the wealthy, elements of the style eventually appeared in middle-class American homes as well.

Oriental lacquered screens, stylized ceramic statues, inlaid dressing tables and geometric patterned area rugs bring Art Deco style to middle-class living rooms and bedrooms. Industrial materials such as chrome, plastic and glass on furniture and mass-produced items made from tubular steel and colorful Bakelite plastic are components of Art Deco decor.

A Style Embraced by Wealth

In Hollywood homes and mansions of wealthy, fashion-conscious art-lovers, glistening floors were made with polished wood, marble or terrazzo. Multi-tiered crystal chandeliers dazzled from above, and rooms sparkled with shiny chrome and brass fixtures, mirrored walls and art glass accents by designers such as Rene Lalique.

Streamlined, modern elements inspired by machines, power, speed and luxury include:

  • Bold, sweeping curves
  • Strong vertical lines
  • Geometric shapes
  • Aerodynamic forms
  • Sunbursts
  • Chevrons
  • Egyptian zigzags
  • Airbrushed ray bands
  • Motion lines 

Rich, luxurious draperies and plush velvet upholstery inspired a feeling of opulence. Dark, lacquered wood furniture with ivory inlays and exotic veneers and shiny metallic geometric-patterned wallpapers added ultimate glamour.

Revival Styles

During the same decade that Americans were embracing the modern bungalow and the wealthy were obsessing over Art Deco style, architects and designers were also looking to the past for inspiration. Many revival styles peaked in popularity during the 1920s, including:

  • Colonial
  • Spanish or Spanish Eclectic
  • Georgian
  • English
  • Italian or Mediterranean
  • French Eclectic

While maintaining many of the traditional elements of colonial and European designs, revival homes also incorporated modern elements, such as the open floor plans, of bungalow homes. In the 1920s, homeowners had a vested interest in the style of their homes. Magazines during this era, such as American Home, American Builder and Ladies Home Journal, offered articles about specific styles and included illustrations with abundant design details.

Interior Decor

Woodwork and fireplace mantels were painted in a light neutral such as ivory with corresponding light plaster walls or delicate-patterned wallpaper. Floors consisted of walnut-stained wood or a light neutral carpet underneath colorful hooked or braided rugs.

An eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary furniture included ladder-back dining chairs with rush seats and tavern tables in the dining area and overstuffed davenports and armchairs in the living room. Wingback armchairs were popular, often combined with a small, splay-legged table for reading. Other common additions included Windsor chairs, butterfly tables, candle stands, drop-front secretary desks and plate racks.

Colorful chintz draperies with dainty patterns embellished windows. Accessories included iron-based reading lamps, converted oil lamps with painted parchment shades, brass andirons with ball tops, candlesticks, books and magazines.

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