Rugs through time (1940s & 1950s) – Post war austerity and chromatic colour palettes

In our last Rugs Through Time, Francis Bacon and Art Deco were developing innovative rug designs in the early 20th century, using shapes, colour and industrial metallics to reinvigorate interior design after the First World War.

Sadly, the future of design was put on hold soon after when the breakout of World War II in 1939 put an almost complete stop to creativity in Europe. With more pressing needs weighing on every person in almost every country around the world, repetition and mass production haltered creative exploration in many areas of design for over a decade.

The effect of post war austerity on design

By the 1950s, a shortage of housing along with suppliers and builders to construct that housing, reached a critical point. The manpower needed was simply not available.

Britain’s answer to this was prefab housing: cheap to build, bungalow-style homes with all the modern amenities (bathroom, kitchen, small garden). The intention was for these houses to last around ten years while construction of brick built homes was carried out.

The post war austerity in the UK led to these prefab homes being decorated with carpeting that favoured a plain aesthetic. Bland, inoffensive and unremarkable colours and patterns were popular due to the collective, conservative sense in the country at the time.

1940s rug design retained geometric patterns


Though the use of colour in the 1940s was limited to neutral shades, to show the restraint of the country and its people, there were lingering hints of the 1930s’ geometric patterns in carpets and rug design.

Designer rugs similar to the Baker Multi rug would not have been out of place. The pale gold, taupe and faded bronze would suit the austerity of the time, while the use of rounded boxes is abstract yet ordered.

Coincidentally, this contemporary rug also feels reminiscent of the 1940s/50s period as the boxes look quite similar to the vintage TV sets of the time.

Monochromatic vs polychromatic rug colour palettes


Design began to reemerge into the post-war world, taking off primarily in the US where a later involvement in the war seemed to allow for more affluent spending, in the 1950s. This gave rug designers around the world more opportunities to sell their wares and explore more modern concepts and ideas.

Two colour schemes that became very popular at this time were monochromatic and polychromatic. Monochromatic involves the use of all the colours of a single hue, while polychromatic, its defiant opposite, uses all the colours of the colour wheel.

Both styles existed simultaneously and thrive even today. For example, the geometric use of monochromatic colours is perfectly displayed in the Amore Kelim Purple rug. Though in the 1950s often the shades would ascend/descend along the rug or carpet, this modern version mixes them to a less organised effect and bolder, brighter colours.

The Gum Gum Multi-Coloured with Black rug alternatively, shows how clashing colours and use of multiple colours can be married into a single rug, much like the polychromatic colour palettes. The striking swipes of pastel yellow, flamingo pink and navy blue with black and white creates a bold print rug.

Though the 1940s and 50s largely limited the creative exploration of moderns rugs, the ability for creative minds to bounce back and persevere meant that the pieces were in place for the exciting schemes and styles to come.


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