Home decor for a small apartment: Tips from the 1940s

The '40s career girl's apartment - vintage decor (2)

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

Decorating a small space: A career girl apartment

By Henrietta Murdock | Interior Decoration Editor of the Journal

Nothing looks less like your dream castle than a dingy third-floor apartment before you start decorating.

Happy as you may be to have a place of your own, the chances are the new rooms will be dark, with patched plaster, lumpy paint and dated plumbing.

Of course, this sad state is the very reason why you can pick up an apartment at your own budget price, but also why you will have such a joyous adventure turning it into the kind of place you like.

Keep in mind several things when planning the job, if you really want successful results and fun while you work.

A modern 40s career girl at home

Decorate your apartment: Choosing color carefully

Color is your cheapest and most effective decoration. It is the byproduct of all you do, and costs nothing in itself.

Next, buy second-hand furnishings or shop outside the beaten path, as we did, to find inexpensive, adaptable items that will give personality to your rooms. Then be sure to locate a neighborhood handyman to saw and nail where need be.

Lastly, remember not to overdecorate your living room with amateur crafts such as stencils, fun designs or whimseys. If you like them, save these for your bath and kitchenette.

Decorating a small home 40s style (1)

It’s more fun to decorate around a theme, even though you use secondhand furnishings. Gay Pan-American colors gave us both our theme and our scheme, and make the room attractive in an unusual way.

The landlord will paint, of course, and therein lies your first triumph. Fresh, new, high-style color will cancel out the old ordinary look, and give you a lift with the rest of your scheme.

Modern career girl Here's how to decorate your apartment (1949)

Think things over carefully, for it is easy to get a wrong start with your backgrounds. Some colors just won’t do on imperfect walls, or on any but the most modern, flawless surfaces. This is because colors have varying characters, such as elegance, formality, distinction, gaiety and sophistication.

It is best to stay away from the elegancies such as chalk-blue, coral-pink dead white and black. But go as far as you like with dramatic greens, yellows, turquoise or the rich dusty pastels.

MORE: Super-groovy makeovers to organize your dorm or bedroom (1971)

The walls of the room in the photograph are painted a strong grayed-chartreuse, appropriately called avocado. It is easy to mix if you put chrome yellow into medium green and add a touch of red. The color is new, has style, and combines well with almost anything. Paint your ceiling the same color as your walls.

A dashing scheme will cancel out the old look many dreary apartments have. This one has south-of-the-border colors, new ways with a few old items.

Parade your hobbies as part of the decorations

Small living room home decor from the 1940s (2)

Decorate your apartment: Selecting apartment furniture

If you haven’t a separate bedroom, buy two studio couches and use them in a corner arrangement. The effect looks built-in, and of course, the couches serve as seats during the day. For the average person, thirty-inch couches are wide enough for beds and make more comfortable seats than those which are wider.

The newest couches have wooden legs for a modern look, but box couches are good style, also, and have the advantage of storage space inside. You can have your mattresses upholstered in a sturdy fabric such as sailcloth, or make slipcovers which can be removed at night.

Small living room home decor from the 1940s (1)

Any upholstered chair will slip-cover. Of course, the job is easier and the effect more professional if the chair has straight lines, so if you have a choice of styles, keep the slip covering job in mind and choose the chairs with simple lines.

Cushions are almost a necessity if you use your couches for seats. Make soft plump ones, preferably out of feather pillows, and have the colors repeat your scheme.

You will need a desk, and this may be a used one, painted, or simply a commodious table with space for a lamp and writing accessories.

The '40s career girl's apartment - vintage decor (1)

Decorate your apartment: Table styles are changing

Since lamps have grown in scale, tables are larger also. Few of the larger tables now in the market are priced for economy schemes, so you can do one of two things for the new table look. For your coffee table, saw off the legs of an old-style table and paint it exactly to match your furniture.

This is not new, of course, but a modern innovation is to buy a woven rush mat for under $2.00, and apply it over the top of your old table, fastening down the edges with a commercial stock molding.

The table in the photograph is plywood with straight sawed legs, and the woven top is one of those rush mats common to Mexico and all South American countries.

A career girl's apartment (2)

Try double-decker tables for small rooms or apartments. The one in the photograph is easy to do. You make them out of ordinary tables by adding a superstructure like a shelf on legs. This arrangement gives you a place for books and magazines without crowding the space for your lamp.

ALSO SEE: Home decor, 1959-style: Be generous with color

Decorate your apartment: For the floors

Don’t think you have to have room-size wool rugs for a studio-type living room. This is the era of innovations in floor coverings, and there are all manner of charming rugs that cost comparatively little and add style to an informal room.

Big woven rush rugs such as the one shown in the photograph are extremely durable, easy to care for and cost less than $50.00. They come in many sizes, and their natural hue is a soft, neutral grass tone.

Decorating a small home 40s style (2)

If your floor is painted, don’t make the mistake of using wood tans and browns. Instead, try deep green, rich dark red, midnight blue or off-black. These dark hues set off your other colors to advantage.

Parade your hobbies as part of the decorations, add snap to inexpensive items furniture. Music, art, books, all have a place in decoration, give personality to an informal space.

Small home - bedsit studio apartment decor from the 1940s

Decorating your apartment: Lamps and lighting

Remember that lamps are huge these days, and most shades have rather straight sides. If you want to keep the cost low, make your lamps out of big jars or colored glass bottles.

The lamps in the photograph are made from inexpensive Mexican glass bottles costing $6.00, with light adapters in the tops and fitted with shades in scale with their height.

You can do the whole job yourself. Such bottles are to be found in almost any store these days, and in various colorings. The adapters you buy in an electric shop or a hardware store, and the shades you paint yourself. They are heavy paper which takes either oil or water paint, and may be found in the lamp department of the average store.

MORE: See inside the ideal American home of the ’20s

Modern career girl Here's how to decorate your apartment (1948)

Decorate your apartment: Accessories add charm

By all means, dramatize your love of art, your hobby or your recreation as part of the room’s decoration. If you play the piano, include the instrument in your scheme by color-styling it to suit your particular harmony.

If you don’t want to paint the case, turn it away from the room, cover the back with painted plywood, and use the space for pictures or background as we did in the photograph.

If you collect prints, have them uniformly framed and hang them in groups. If you have a surplus of books, build rows or tiers of shelves and allow the covers to be part of your decorative scheme.

Once settled on a scheme or a theme with unusual colors when you decorate your apartment, you will need to watch carefully to keep out alien hues. You can do this easily if you consider each subsequent addition to the room and make sure it has a rightful place in the picture.

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 


You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.