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March 20, 2021

30 Beautiful American Kitchens From the 1940s

Home design in the 1940s, especially in the kitchen, represented a rapid shift. Older styles and materials were quickly replaced. New ideas took hold, and the kitchen was transformed.

Probably more than any other era in the 1940s we have a big divide between the illustrated ideal kitchens and what people really had. For the first five years of the decade the Second World War meant that not only were new kitchens unlikely – there wasn’t even much of an opportunity to fantasize. However, once the war ended there was plenty of good advice out there for anyone planning a new home – or just hoping they might get one.

The rush to build decent homes lead to lots of experimentation in pre-fabricated materials for building houses – which extended into the prefabrication of kitchen units as part of the build of the house – particularly seen in the classic post-war prefab. For the majority of people the 1940s kitchen would have been identical to what they had in the 1930s – at best. As with so much at this time design ideals were moving on, but people would have to wait until the 1950s to start seeing the new styles and designs in their homes.

1940 Armstrong Polka Dot Kitchen – Glass block appeared during the 1930s and combined with the clean streamlined design of the late Deco period, this kitchen achieves a bit of modernity. The polka dots, ruffles, and ubiquitous geraniums keep it casual and appealing without becoming too designery.

1940 Armstrong Kitchen in Brown and Blue – Most kitchen designs were lighter and brighter than this dark chocolate brown kitchen. Blue accents and white appliances provide some relief in this “gardener’s kitchen” as it was referred to in the ad which ran in American Home.

1940 Nairn Linoleum Ad - Very Pink Kitchen – This Nairn ad ran in the American Home magazine and it’s really pink. The combination of pink and navy blue isn’t uncommon but the amount of pink is. Even the ceiling is a lighter shade. It really makes those white appliances and red accessories pop.

1941 Nairn Linoleum Kitchen – Shown in an American Home magazine, this classic red, light tan, and green scheme has lots of clean modern elements. As an ad for Nairn, one of the oldest flooring companies in the US, the linoleum was the featured element, but the tan walls and red linoleum counters make a nice counter point to the green-topped Aalto stools. Also seen regularly were the window walls under the cabinets. We should be so lucky to have more of those today!

1942 Armstrong Family Kitchen – Armstrong ran full color ads throughout the Depression and WWII advertising their various flooring, wall, and insulation products. Unlike many companies they had a dedicated staff responsible for coming up with new room ideas constantly. Though “high designers” like Raymond Lowey and Russell Wright influenced the direction of interior design, it was companies like Armstrong that appealed most directly to the primary decision maker ... the American housewife.

1942 Armstrong Pennsylvania Dutch – The folkloric style is one that surfaces here and there consistently throughout the 20th century. Painted Pennsylvania Dutch flowers and birds, an Early American theme, and antiques (or wannabes) create a traditional, comfortable look that appealed to many home owners.

1945 Armstrong with Working Pantry – This kitchen is dark with the black and green prominently featured in the scheme. The white of the pantry and light floor serve to minimize the light absorbing qualities, but it’s the functionality of the pantry that steals the show. It’s fully functional for baking and other food prep chores. When not in use the doors close and the kitchen becomes neat and tidy.

1945 American Gas Association Kitchen – This kitchen ad appeared in Ladies Home Journal in mid 1945. It may have been the first of the New Freedom Gas Kitchen ads published. This one is notable for its blue, white, and yellow color scheme and no name ... the rest of the kitchen designs had names.

1945 Picture Window Kitchen – Immediately after the war, the American Gas Association launched its New Freedom Gas Kitchen campaign. This image appeared in Ladies Home Journal as the “Picture Window Kitchen.” Most kitchens were named to reflect their primary characteristic. This apple green and melon-colored kitchen was bright and cheery.

1945 Tiny Armstrong Kitchen – This kitchen is a tiny 6’x6’. The open door is designed to function as a step to access upper cupboards. After WWII, many people were still living in cramped quarters so small, attractive kitchen designs would have appealed to many people including apartment dwellers.

1945 Congoleum Linoleum Rug – This 1945 Congoleum ad was published in Ladies Home Journal and reflects the continuation of 1930s style. Unlike its main competitor, Armstrong, the Congoleum company was more erratic in its advertising style. This kitchen would be pretty easy to replicate today though with contemporary linoleum on the floors and counters right down to the gooseneck faucet on the sink. Red, green and white is a timeless color scheme.

1946 Crane Kitchen – This ad was published in American Home magazine. The color scheme of white, yellow, and green is very calm and the lack of clutter is very attractive. Unlike many Early American interiors, there no busyness — the simplicity here is unusual.

1946 AGA Kitchen Laundry Combination – This ad was published in Ladies Home Journal and featured one of the American Gas Association’s New Freedom kitchens. The color scheme of red, green, and yellow (or gold) has always been a popular combination. The counters and floor were probably both linoleum though in a few short years, plastics like Formica would begin to dominate the market.

1947 AGA Americana Kitchen – The Americana kitchen was published in American Home magazine among others and reflected the optimistic patriotism of the winners of the Second World War. The glass block between the stove and breakfast booth is a nice mid-century touch.

1947 AGA Mixing Corner Kitchen – This ad for a “Mixing Corner Kitchen” was published in American Home magazine. Red, green, yellow, and crisp white steel cabinetry was a classic color combo. The steel cabinetry was big during the post-War years as companies retooled to meet the needs for kitchen cabinets instead of machine gun turrets.

1947 AGA “Old House, New Kitchen” – Intended to appeal to owners of older homes who may have wanted a kitchen update for their mid-1920s house, this ad by the American Gas Association was published in American Home. During the post-War years, they published a series of attractive color illustrations reflecting the current trends in kitchen design.

1947 AGA Shipshape Kitchen – A variant on the popular red, white, and blue theme replaced the red with a maroon. This kitchen design shows all the amenities desired by the American homemaker after WWII including the stand mixer, built-in dishwasher, and a brand new gas range. We like the small breakfast booth.

1947 American Standard Kitchen – This small brochure, published by American Standard, shows colors that were muted and toned down. The combinations ranged from odd (to our eye) to very sophisticated. This color scheme comes from the palette of colors in the brochure: Ivoire de Medici, Corallin, Clair de Lune Blue, and T'ang Red.

1948 Armstrong Kitchen With Pantry – Keeping a small kitchen tidy, but functional, is as much a challenge today as it was in 1948 when this ad appeared in American Home magazine. In keeping with the post-War period, it is yet another example of the popular red, white, and blue color scheme that captivated many American homeowners.

1948 Armstrong Kitchen – This ad for a very busy, multifunction kitchen appeared in American Home in 1948. Regardless of how you feel about the color scheme or layout, this kitchen packs a lot of function into a small footprint.

1948 Armstrong Kitchen Ideas – If you like kitchens with scallops, this is the one for you. Here’s an interesting design, again in red, white, and blue, with lots of over the top scallops in the floor and trim. A lazy-susan corner cabinet shows how easy it is to design functional storage in a small foot print ... especially if hubby has a workshop in the basement.

1948 Armstrong Kitchen With Working Pantry – Right after WWII, the lead designer at Armstrong seems to have been quite taken with the idea of a working pantry that could be closed off when not in use. This one features an accordion-style door on a track, which was quite a space saver. Everything is tidy and organized — a feature that wouldn't have been lost on many homemakers.

1948 Modern Armstrong – This modern style kitchen shows Armstrong linoleum off to good advantage. The cabinets have tambour doors, a post War design feature that appears in many publications of the period. Eat in kitchens were also desirable and many had both a booth or nook and a counter breakfast bar.

1949 Crane Kitchen – During the 1920s Crane advertised broadly and in color. During the Depression and through WWII, their ads were primarily in black and white. All that changed after the War when they began advertising using both color illustrations and photos.

1949 Youngstown Kitchen – Advertising during the 1940s and ’50s was often cute and followed a theme. This image is from a Youngstown ad that touted the wonderousness of their steel cabinets. Each ad has some kind of happy family image that has since come to embody our understanding of the period. The kitchens depicted were modern, clean, and affordable ... all good reasons to buy them. Finding steel cabinets now has become somewhat challenging, but they work up really well in retro kitchen renovations. Some people sand them down and have them refinished by auto painters.

1949 Armstrong Kitchen – Shown in Ladies Home Journal, this Armstrong ad has the creative storage ideas as well as their latest linoleum pattern to entice home owners considering an update to their kitchen. Some of the ideas like the shallow wall storage and drop-leaf work space would maximize the functionality of many of today’s kitchens.

1949 Bird Linoleum Kitchen – This ad for Bird linoleum is interesting both for its design, which is more typical of the pre-WWII period than the late 1940s and its relative rarity. Though Bird had been in business for decades it was never as large as the main flooring companies and advertisements like this one are unusual.

1949 Pabco Linoleum Ad – This ad for Pabco linoleum appeared in Ladies Home Journal and is included here because it's color scheme foreshadows some of the color schemes that would come to be enormously popular during the 1950s ... in this case, turquoise, orange, and brown.

1949 Ladies Home Journal Kitchen Article – This image came from an article that ran in Ladies Home Journal. Another image showed the corner table and banquette seating. The pink is a modern departure from the more common color schemes with dark green, mint green, and white lightening it up. The wallpaper over the range with its giant cabbage rose wallpaper is used on the entire wall over the banquette.

1949 Youngstown – Another Youngstown kitchen uses the red, green, and gold color scheme to contrast with the crisp white and cabinetry and black counters.


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