In the late 1940’s fashion style was a combination of Edith Piaf’s passion and chic black dresses and the Andrews Sisters with their upbeat sounds and tailored military uniforms; of make do and mend austerity mixed with the joyous flourishes of Dior’s New Look. Interiors and décor at that time were all about celebrating the new elevated chic style, with a contemporary look at colour palettes, the power of art and strong Hollywood influences. It was a time when life was lived intensely.
The first thing we considered when designing Kittyhawk, was colour. We drew on the military khaki, French navy and masculine shades like red brick and oak. But we balanced it with light creams and soft pink and touches of brass. A balance of masculine and feminine influences brings the interior alive.
Don’t be afraid of grey as a base colour; it makes other colours pop and looks chicer than basic white. Think of designers like Christian Dior who used a signature dove grey for walls and furnishings to better highlight the sumptuous pinks and reds of the collections. Dorothy Draper, a key interior designer of the time, used grey walls to balance jewel coloured furniture and white architectural mouldings.
Go to the Movies
The 1940’s was Hollywood’s Golden Era: Gary Cooper, Vivien Leigh, Bogey and Bacall lit up the screens. Hollywood film sets were strong on architectural detail, with sumptuous fabrics, draped and swagged to catch the light. Nothing busy: it was about elegant but strong statements. Find inspiration in the work of legendary designer William Haines, who switched from acting to interiors, working with clients like Joan Crawford. He introduced a modern version of Hollywood Regency style, simple yet layered, using texture and offbeat colours to tell a story. You can see echoes of his style in the work of Kelly Wearstler today.
When you think of the 1940’s, it’s all about low lighting. From the dive bars to the boudoirs to the classic films, light was moody and focused. Use up-lights to emphasise architectural features and create a warm glow; spot lights can focus attention on key areas. Stars like Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich controlled the lighting in their environments to always look their best, so art direct the lighting to highlight your and your home’s best angles. Candlelight is universally flattering.
Some of the best designs of the 1940’s came out of Europe. Pre-war Italy was a sophisticated blend of grand palazzi and cutting-edge technology. You can combine white stucco and classical sculptures with the sexy, futuristic lines of Gio Ponti’s furniture. Modernist, cut-work screens and installations were also used to divide a space or focus on a specific area. If you have a small space, consider a cool, folding screen in white or natural wood.
This was a time when masculine and feminine shapes and designs were both strong, so mix them up. You can pick up the fluid lines of a Vargas Girl illustration in a sexy chaise longue, but balance it with a solid oak table or an early modernist armchair to avoid creating a ‘boudoir’ instead of a home. And while busy Persian rugs were all the rage in the 1940’s, a simpler, more geometric design works well with a modern space.
Again, it’s about balance, and if you look at movies like Casablanca, the women like Ingrid Bergman balanced strong, masculine shoulder lines and heavy tweeds and flannels with soft silk charmeuse and broderie anglaise cottons. So mix the rough with the smooth: exposed brick meets softly burnished brass; rough tweed with silk cushions.
You can turn one wall into a gallery, hung with a mixture of prints, sketches, photos and finds from your travels. Instead of lining up your images, hang everything Paris Salon style. Look for frames of a similar weight or colour group to unify. Graphics and posters are an easy and fun way to add a 40’s touch: look for vintage advertisements, travel posters and paraphernalia.
This is the fun part: you can search out vintage shops and flea markets for retro pieces to add character to your space. Again, look for a theme to unify your pieces so that your space doesn’t look like a junk shop. You might cluster by topic such as equestrian, classical or French; or you might focus on shapes – star bursts, boxes, and so on, or look to colour to unify your collection – all white, mercury glass, brass, French blue.
Add a bold touch
The 1940’s was also a time of passion and experimentation. Artists like Salvador Dali and designers like Elsa Schiaparelli and Fornasetti brought their surreal ideas to fruition. This was a time of zebra prints, bold tiles, coloured glass and wonderfully bizarre objects. The trick is not to crowd everything together; think like a Hollywood set designer and give your Eames chair or your Saarinen lamp a starring role.