Old-fashioned oilcloth was pretty & popular decor for kitchens in the 40s and 50s

Vintage oilcloth from the 1950s

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Vintage oilcloth, a durable material traditionally made by coating canvas or linen with linseed oil to create a waterproof surface, has a storied history for household use, and was especially popular back in the 1940s and 1950s.

In the past, its resilience and easy-to-clean nature made it a popular choice for kitchens — as tablecloths, wallpaper and shelf lining — where spills and stains were commonplace. The oil treatment rendered the cloth water-resistant, allowing it to withstand repeated use and cleaning, an ideal characteristic for the bustling family kitchen or dining area.

These vintage oilcloths, like those shown below, often featured bright, cheerful patterns, ranging from floral to geometric designs, adding a splash of color and personality to the home.

Oilcloth at Woolworth's in 1948 at ClickAmericana com
Oilcloth for sale at Woolworth’s in 1948

Modern versions of oilcloth have evolved, primarily using plastics or vinyl to achieve the same waterproof and durable qualities, but with a nod to the nostalgic charm of their predecessors. These contemporary fabrics are designed to mimic the look and feel of vintage oilcloth, featuring retro patterns that evoke a sense of nostalgia, while offering the practical benefits of modern materials.

They are versatile and robust, capable of enduring outdoor conditions and modern cleaning products, making them a pretty choice for table coverings, shelf liners, and even outdoor decor. Despite the shift in materials, the spirit of the original oilcloth lives on, blending functionality with the vintage aesthetic that continues to charm and delight homeowners.

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Vintage oilcloth wallpaper from Sears in 1942

Vintage oilcloth wallpaper from Sears in 1942 (1) at ClickAmericana com

Vintage oilcloth wallpaper from Sears in 1942 (2) at ClickAmericana com

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Vintage genuine wall oilcloth examples from the 1940s

Yes, it’s real oilcloth, like you use on your pantry shelves or your kitchen table — the only difference is that wall oilcloth is heavier, better made and longer lasting. It has the same stout canvas back — the same year-in-year-out wearing qualities.

Wall oilcloth fills a very real need for kitchen, bathroom — any walls that are apt to be spotted or roughly treated, because it may be washed repeatedly, and because it doesn’t scuff, tear or mar easily.

You’ll be amazed at the way it protects your walls, helping to prevent plaster cracks. And it saves you money because it wears twice as long as other wall-coverings. It’s not only practical — it’s attractive as well. You’ll find here, smart patterns for bathroom, kitchen, children’s room, playroom and living room in a wide variety of gay colors that are fully fadeproof.

Be sure to use extra heavy paste when hanging wall oilcloth. You may buy wall oilcloth by the yard or by the roll. A roll is 12 yards long, 48 inches wide — the extra width means it may be hung with fewer seams. Each pattern has a smart harmonizing border. Wainscoting is 4 feet high, and should be hung horizontally. All wainscoting has a border at both top and bottom.

Vintage genuine wall oilcloth at ClickAmericana com

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Do-it-yourself decorating ideas with oilcloth (1952)

From the personal scrapbook of Constance Hunter, home decorator (ad from 1952)

Now! Dozens of bright ideas for your home with colorful Blenback Oil Cloth. Practical ideas, too, because Blenback is a real work-saver. Dust and grease wipe off with a damp cloth. The coated fabric surface doesn’t spot or stain, stays color-fresh, wears and wears.

Go to your store this week and buy the new patterns in oilcloth by the yard, as individual table covers or in matching ready-made ensembles of chair backs and cushions, scarfs, edging and shelf covering.

vintage oilcloth decor from 1952 (3)

Sink and stove splash — Colorful protection for paint, paper, plaster walls. Grease spots wash right off. Easy to install. Just paste, tack or tape it up.

Decorate doors and shelves with bright new oilcloth. Use it on closet walls, too. Smooth surface sheds dust. For extra smartness, also cover hat boxes…

Basket liner — Makes handy laundry hamper out of ordinary bushel basket. Slips over wire handles, stays in place. Ready-made in gay patterns. Sold as Universal Clothes Basket Liners at variety stores.

Wastebasket cover — Glamorize old or chipped wastebaskets, canisters, breadbox with matching fabric-base oilcloth. Pastes or tapes on easily, stands abuse.

Drawer liner — Dress up drawers with bright, new Blenback patterns. The liners take only a minute to cut. They stay put, and they dust clean in a jiffy.

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By the makers of Wall-Tex fabric wall covering and Col-O-Vin vinyl plastics by the yard. Blenback for tables: Colorful, modern patterns lend good cheer to everyday meals. This luscious fruit design (Orchard Lane, No. 5279) brightens either kitchen or dining room table, keeps its clean, fresh look week in, week out. 

ALSO SEE: A 1950s home tour: See inside a small house in San Francisco

Oilcloth: Try these do-it-yourself decorating ideas (1952)

Now! Dozens of bright ideas for your home with colorful Blenback oilcloth. Go to your store this week and buy the new patterns in Blenback Oil Cloth by the yard, as individual table covers, or in matching ready-made ensembles of chair backs and cushions, scarfs, edging and shelf covering. On sale everywhere!

vintage oilcloth decor from 1952 (2)

DON’T MISS: Vintage ConTact paper & Rubbermaid shelf liners: Easy ’70s home decor with adhesive vinyl

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. My parents had oil cloth tablecloths that they used for years. I especially recall several Christmas-themed ones that they would break out every holiday season; they placed one in particular at the base of the tree as a tree skirt.

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