BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

17 September 2014
Accessibility help
TV and radioDirectory A to ZTalkLifestyleHomes homepage

BBC Homepage
TV and radio

Contact Us

1920s living room


This glamorous decade was the heyday of interior designers, a new profession who were employed to create fantasy rooms for lavish cocktail parties and royal patrons.

1920s stained glass with sun motif

In the home, modernism was taking off in Europe with the setting up of the Bauhaus, and shocking the world with its pared-down austere look. Architects began designing objects for the home, such as coffee sets and radios, as well as buildings. In the middle of the decade, art deco was showcased in Paris and became the major new style.

The decade known for its decadence ended with the Wall Street Crash, which plunged America and consequently much of Europe into economic depression.


  • glamorous and sophisticated
  • geometric and angular shapes
  • chrome, glass, shiny fabrics, mirrors and mirror tiles
  • stylised images of aeroplanes, cars, cruise liners and skyscrapers
  • nature motifs
  • exotic touches from the Orient, Africa and Egypt


  • art deco and modernism.
  • early Hollywood - the glamorous world of the silver screen filtered through to design. Cocktail cabinets and smoking paraphernalia became highly fashionable.
  • travel - African safaris were all the rage, especially animal skins, ivory, mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell.

The names

  • Eileen Gray - Irish-born furniture maker who lived and worked in Paris
  • Raymond Templier - jewellery designer
  • Le Corbusier - architect and furniture designer
  • Syrie Maugham - most famous for her all-white interior in 1929; also designed for Noel Coward and Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
  • Sybil Colefax and John Fowler - later Colefax & Fowler

At the time

  • 1921 The Kid by Charlie Chaplin
  • 1926 Television first demonstrated
  • 1926 Rudolph Valentino dies
  • 1927 Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, the first talking picture
  • 1929 Wall Street Crash

1920s telephone, chairs, bronze lady lighting, china

Get the look

  • Furniture - choose strong streamlined shapes for furniture and in single pieces rather than suites. Look for modern classics by Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray. Reproductions and re-issues can be found.
  • Floor - plain polished parquet is perfect for floors. Linoleum in abstract designs or black and white chequerboard vinyl tiles are also typical.
  • Rug - floors would have been overlaid with a large rug in geometric patterns. Go for a huge circular one as the centrepiece to the room.
  • Fireplaces - fireplaces should be rectangular and bold with a stepped profile.
  • Colour schemes - halls suit bold colours such as silver, black, chrome, and black and white. For real dramatic impact, why not silver-leaf your entire ceiling or black-gloss your floor.
  • Lighting - lights featuring female figures holding the ball of the lamp are typical and good reproductions abound. Also look for chrome, a brand new material at the time, and glass. Glass would have been etched, sandblasted or enamelled rather than coloured.
  • Walls - keep walls plain and free from decorative plasterwork. Use a coat of varnish on top for a really glossy sheen.
  • Fabrics - choose shiny light-reflective fabrics or plain fabrics with metallic threads.
  • Accessories - add a striking painting or one statue rather than a clutter of objects. For real authenticity, look for light switches etc in Bakelite, a plastic resin. Add touches of opulence with items such as tortoiseshell and enamel cigarette boxes and mother-of-pearl letter openers.
  • Display - ostrich feathers make a suitably decadent display.

What to invest in

  • modern classics by Eileen Gary and Le Corbusier
  • art deco artefacts and posters

Where to see it

  • Interior of Brixton Academy, London
  • Claridges, London

Further reading

  • 20s and 30s Style by Michael Horsham (Grange Books)
  • Interior Design of the 20th Century by Anne Massey (Thames & Hudson)

Back to top

In Lifestyle

Art deco

Elsewhere on


Elsewhere on the web

The Twentieth Century Society
Victoria & Albert Museum
The BBC is not responsible for content on external websites

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy