This huge collection of old-fashioned wallpaper styles shows that the decade was more colorful than you’d imagine from seeing just black and white photos!
About half of the 150+ examples shown below come from the Sears “Color Perfect” wallpaper catalog published in 1940, while the others come from the Ward’s catalog the same year. The styles run the gamut — from quaint and whimsical, to elegant and classic, to the heavy and ornamental papers that went out of fashion decades ago.
Still, these little wallpaper samples give us a fascinating little look into the past of what our American family members looked for in home decor… and, in turn, what they looked at on their own walls every day. Take a peek into the past!
Wallpaper fashions change yearly (1940)
From the News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio) February 27, 1940
Fashions in wallpaper, like fashions in clothes, change from year to year. The changes are gradual, and not always noticeable at first glance, but change they do according to M. E. Cole, manager of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass company.
You might suppose that a Colonial wallpapers, for example, would remain unaltered from season, but this is not the case.
Subtle changes in both design and color give new life to ideas that are centuries old, so that your Colonial house, for instance, while keeping an unmistakable eighteenth-century charm, is nevertheless as up-to-the-minute as today’s newspaper.
There is a definite trend toward patterns that have dignity plus imagination — a new version of tried and proven Colonial designs that are eminently suitable for the contemporary American home.
Instead of copying antique papers slavishly, the wallpaper style leader has adopted, to a certain extent, the philosophy of the contemporary decorator, who strives for the expression of an idea rather than correctness alone.
Not only are these new papers as beautiful as the antique ones, but they are practical as well.
Imperial papers, as an example, are made washable and fast to light so that their beauty will endure and you need have no fear of extravagance when you decide to use them in your home.
Because home-makers everywhere are re-decorating two or three rooms at a time, using papers that harmonize in design, this is definitely a year of stripes.
Stripes make the perfect companion paper — whatever pattern you choose for the walls of an adjoining room, a striped paper will harmonize with it. It will also go with any pattern you may have — in draperies, rugs or upholstery.
Stripes, with an incredible number of variations, have revived a fashion that was at its height in the early eighteen hundreds.
Columns of flowers or quaint landscapes are separated by stripes of filigree or plain bands of contrasting color. Plain stripes in every conceivable width and combination of color are more important than ever, blending with uncanny ease into any scheme of decoration.
For dramatic decor, there are stripes with startling contrasts; for more low-keyed livable rooms there are stripes of all types and widths blended with an appropriate subtlety.
Also new in the field of wallpaper is the ensembling of two and sometimes three papers. There has always been great difficulty in finding papers for adjoining rooms which have a decoratively sound relation to each other.
Now, with sympathetic foresight, this problem has been overcome. Most often, two papers are planned with identical colored backgrounds, but with complementary patterns.
Thus, an arrangement of soft-toned medallions separated with subtle stripes will have for its companion paper the same Imperial design with the stripes omitted, or with the stripes retained and the medallion omitted.
Vintage Sunfast Wallpapers from 1942
Here they are! See vintage 1940s wallpaper samples
Large-scale striped wallpaper in neutral greens
Shiny embossed wallpaper striped with shades of yellow
Colorful mod squares for a whimsical 1940s wallpaper look
Large-scale green leaf/ivy pattern
Abstract embossed floral pattern on pale golden background
Large scale floral pattern with roses on a green polka-dot backdrop
Wallpaper coordinating styles from the 1940s
Vintage wallpaper wainscotting from 1942
About vintage 1940s wallpapers from [Montgomery] Ward’s
We realized that to design papers for your home, we must know your taste. Our first step was to conduct a wallpaper survey, interviewing 1760 women.
Members of our Research Staff went into their homes with a 300-pattern sample book. From it, women selected papers in favorite colors and designs—told why they liked them.
To make doubly sure of these ideas, we talked to thousands of wallpaper customers in our Order Offices and Retail Stores. Then, at last, we had a cross-section of taste—we knew what you wanted.
These interviews told us there are wallpaper “wants” about which all women agree. All women want Savings; Quality that gives dependable service; papers harmonizing in Color and Design with each other and with furnishings. We took these ideas to the best designers and colorists in America.
The result is Wards 1940 Wallpapers — you’ll find you like them better than any you’ve seen. Why? Because women like you — with the same types of homes — helped create them.
Our survey in 1760 homes showed that American women have excellent decorating taste. These women gave color and design preferences — and enabled us to create papers for all needs.
You can create any effect you wish with color—make your home gay, elegant; smaller or larger. Cool shades of Blue, Green or Gray give space to a small room. Warm Pinks, Yellows and Browns make a large room cozy. Keep color schemes simple — a room in good taste has two predominating colors with accents of one or two others.
Wards show 5 basic colors: Blue, Green, Beige, Cocoa and Rose. You can mix or match them in everything from draperies to paint.
Though colors harmonize, if designs clash — the effect is lost. Plaids, stripes and diagonals harmonize with any pattern. All-over florals are good with small geometric designs.
Tiny patterns add space to small rooms. Splashy patterns make large rooms smaller. Stripes add height to a low-ceilinged room.
Companion papers, harmonizing in color and design, make it easy to create an “ensemble” of adjoining rooms. Make your own rooms as attractive — just combine your good taste with the companion papers in this book.
Retro ’40s color schemes for home decor
Color news for 1940 is gray — GRAY — GRAY. Interior Decorators use it lavishly… Our Wallpaper Survey showed that homemakers, too, like gray.
The secret of its beauty is not only that it is cool, restful, that it makes rooms look larger, but that it provides a striking contrast to vivid colors. Like the setting of a jewel, gray walls are a gracious background for richly colored draperies, upholstery and rugs.
Nine out of ten, when asked their favorite color, say “It’s blue.” As every man has a blue tie — every woman a blue dress — so should every home have a blue room.
Nature wisely chose blue for the sky and sea—it’s such a satisfying color to look at. And, you’ll find that blue walls produce the same restful feeling.
Blue makes a South room seem cool and airy. In a small room, it creates a feeling of space. And still, it is a delightful color in any room.
Over half the women we interviewed in our Wallpaper Survey chose Beige as the favorite color for their walls. A trim, block pattern in delicate shades of beige was designed to meet the need of a smart modern treatment of this popular shade. Created especially to harmonize with the flowing lines, the soft wood tones of Swedish Modem furniture.