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Decor through the decades: Kitchen, bath design evolves
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A modern kitchen sink. - photo by Photo Contributed

Remember when brass fixtures and mauve countertops were all the rage in kitchen design? How about the days of shag carpet (yes, in the bathroom) and avocado tile? Fortunately, those particular trends have come and gone. And, whether you embraced them or not, they did have an influence on the space you live in right now. Take a look through the decades to see how decor styles have evolved into the modern kitchens and bathrooms of today.


 America was entering the Great Depression, and while the country’s economy was sinking, Art Deco design was giving homemakers hope by becoming more accessible to the middle class. This decor style featured polished lines, geometric shapes, metallic tones ... and let mom know it was OK to have some fun with color - especially in the kitchen.

The slow economy also made it a great year for creative inventions. One innovation, which you have certainly used, was the single-handle faucet. In 1939, a young Al Moen was cleaning up after an evening of work when he went to wash his hands at an old-fashioned, two-handle faucet. A sudden burst of hot water made him jump back in alarm and this moment of surprise turned out to be the inspiration for the single-handle mixing faucet - an invention that would revolutionize plumbing and allow homeowners to get warm water at the sink.


 With World War II ending, the 1940s brought a need for housing that was met with the mass production of simple structures, like Cape Cods. These homes were small, so interiors were kept uncluttered to maximize the space. Kitchen design was all about being practical - white cabinets helped homemakers spot dirt, while Linoleum flooring and metal countertops were durable and easy to clean. To add a pop of color in the kitchen, the ladies of this decade opted for bright floral wallpaper.

As the popularity of television sets increased, Hollywood glamour became a big style inspiration. In the late 1940s, decor went from down-to-earth to over-the-top lavish, like the sets of movies featuring starlets Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman, and homes began incorporating more lush furniture and bold colors with shiny silver, gold and copper accents.


 The 1950s marked an era that embraced the charm and fulfillment of the American Dream - think “Leave it to Beaver” and “I Love Lucy.” This decade spawned ranch-style floor plans, with wood paneling, brick fireplaces and maple furniture.

According to Houzz, the colors of the 1950s epitomized the optimism of the decade and included pinks, mint greens, turquoise and creamy yellows - in both the home and the car. One room that showcased the joy of the era was the bathroom and the pastel pink sinks, toilets and tubs that came along with it.

The 50s also introduced electric refrigerators, which were more efficient and streamlined than their predecessors - not to mention cheaper. Like most items, they were now available in colored finishes, enabling homeowners to customize their kitchen’s decor.


 Common elements of the “Mad Men” era included bold geometric patterns, in both upholstery and wall coverings, along with cut-velvet fabrics and modular furniture. Colors from this decade were rich, deep, psychedelic hues, such as acid orange and neon pink.

In the kitchen, women found they had better things to do than stand over a hot stove and microwaves became a permanent fixture in homes across America. Women became hooked on the easy, processed foods promoted by ad execs like Don Draper. Why make a sauce when canned soup would work perfectly? Who needs fresh veggies when they already come frozen and seasoned? The 1960s were all about experimentation and instant gratification.

Today’s home

 Fast forward to 2014, where decade-old design elements and materials that were once the height of fashion have reappeared in new and innovative ways.  When it comes to decorating today’s homes, wallpaper is coming back to make a statement, adding texture and depth to living spaces. Geometric shapes and bright colors are also reappearing in home accents and furniture, just paired with neutrals for a more contemporary look.

With urban areas gaining in popularity, the smaller kitchens of the past are making a comeback - only this time they’re packed with top-of-the-line equipment including high-speed ovens, induction cooktops, built-in flat screen TVs and charging stations. Additionally, kitchen fixtures are getting smarter. The MotionSense pulldown kitchen faucets from Moen add hands-free technology to the sink; making tasks like washing dishes, filling a glass of water and preparing the evening meal easier. MotionSense utilizes advanced sensors to detect movement in two sensing zones, setting water flow in motion, as if on command. It’s like having a second set of hands in the kitchen - perfect for when yours are too full or too dirty to turn on the faucet.

While it’s fun to go back and look at decor trends and innovations from the past, it’s important to remember how they have shaped our current style. Who knows, maybe our idea of contemporary today, will be a future generation’s idea of traditional.