Thursday, January 15, 2015

Better Homes and Gardens' First Decorating Book (1956)

A couple of weeks ago I shared my general horror at the interior design from the BH&G book from 1975, which was the one I grew up with. The '75 was the book's fourth publishing date. 

After poking around and watching for some deals, for a few bucks I've been able to procure the first and third editions, which arrived this week. The elusive (read: more expensive) 1961 second printing is now in the shipping stage.

The first edition was published in 1956, in the same binder format that its successors would use. I can't tell you how forward thinking I find this format, as it's ideal for flatbed scanners, save the ubiquitous three hole punch in the photographs.

Not surprisingly, the 1956 version is one I found really appealing, as opposed to the interior insanities of 1975. (I'm sure the 70s will have their turn again in popularity, when "bold" wins out as the best choice for living spaces and some television show catches the audience's fancy.  And I can sit at home and cringe. That'll be fair.)

So, instead of scans of the most horrifying, these are pages I really warmed to and enjoyed pouring over. Ok, and some of the copy is wonderfully dated and charming in its sexist way.

Note that in most BH&G interiors that include magazines, they humbly include their own in less conspicuous arrangements, beside other important mags that give off their own reputational glow.

"Wood is a color!" is one of themes of the book. With the modern designs of open space ranch homes going up by the thousands (sometimes in mere weeks), the more expensive cookie-cutters offered wood and rock as upgrade options, playing on the modern attempt to merge indoor and outdoor spaces and colors, with as many windows as possible between the two.

P.S. Wood is not a color.

In the '56 book "traditional" "formal" and "elegant" are usually synonymous, so it's interesting to see them swap the order of "simple or elegant" in the list above. Also note the Saarinen style chair, contrasted against what would fall under the auspice of "Early American" rocking chair.

Easy-care and informal are attached to the modern chair design. This is the only woman of the five wearing pants and bangs. I love her.

Most of the pages I scanned lean heavily to the "informal" side of BH&G's spectrum, despite these furnishing costing a fortune at the time.

One trend that seems a hold-over from pre-war decor is the large, central painting of a family member. The "mother's room" top right is used again later in the book in a discussion of cool hues, with a mother figure peering imperiously at us in her cool blue dress.

Of course, these may just be people unrelated. The painting that showed up in two different rooms in the book of Spanish prince Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga was painted by Goya in the late 1780s and also graced my grandmother's front room. 


You can just see the bottom half of the painting, but there is his unmistakable bottom half with cat and birds: 

Ok, back to the book. This book is more drawing-heavy than the next versions will be to illustrate concepts of color and shape and texture.

And many of the interiors are artists' rendering rather than photographs. Check out that floor. Just the right hardness to addle baby's brains with every fall.

Doctor's office decor?

"Too much warmth, though, can be uncomfortable to live with."
red room, red room

love the television practically on the floor here. And no space for antennas?

More living rooms via 1956:

The black and white with pink and green isn't appealing, but I had to include this layout, since the newest "problem" in decorating was what to do with this newfangled invention that was overtaking the fireplace as the central focus in living rooms across America.

Yay for blue kitchens! And ceiling wallpaper!

The pink bathroom craze was in full swing by 1956!
And yes, this really is a preservation thing now.

At the end of the book is the Children's Room section, which I include here because of the awesome idea of having a television built into the wall of a kid's playroom in 1956 is pretty elite, and because of that awful clown haunting the kid's nightmares over his bed each night. 

plus, that gargantuan folding door set and drawers placed so high, even mother can't reach!


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