This post was most recently updated on September 23rd, 2019
You knew it was coming!
No series on vintage home decor advertising would be complete without talking linoleum floors!
But before we talk ad-speak, first let me tell you that I’m finding this to be a fun little exercise. I’ve never been one to truly appreciate retro decor trends. My own design style is definitely leaning a little more modern these days (as evidenced by my new living room sofa with long and low lines), but I’ve always been, and will always be, more of a French Country ‘Cottage-y’ kind of girl.
I gravitate to down-filled cushions, graceful lines and chipped paint. Bright vinyl furniture, graphic wallpaper and shiny chrome bathroom fixtures have never made my decor wish list.
But in digging up the historical context for each of the ads I’ve shown you so far, I’ve gained a much better appreciation for retro home decor than I had before. Not everything from the 50s-70s that many of us now view as “hideous” was born from bad taste (although I’m sure that, just like today, some of it was!). Instead, ‘mid-century modern’ style arose from a collision of important influences – from economic to cultural to social.
Take, for example, this ad from the 50s for ‘Gold Seal Linoleum Tile’.
I’ll admit that, at first glance, it’s pretty darn amusing. I almost spit out my coffee when I first read the word ‘Genuine’ in the headline. I mean, isn’t ‘Genuine Linoleum’ an oxymoron?!? And, what about that funny little fact in the subhead: that in 9 out of 10 cases, linoleum tile was laid over wood! It makes you want to yell “What were you thinking, lady?!?” And finally, what’s up with that outfit? Why the heck is she laying tile in her Sunday best?
Well, a little investigation gave me answers to all these questions.
Isn’t ‘Genuine Linoleum’ an oxymoron?!? The finest linoleum floors, known as ‘inlaid’, were made by joining and inlaying solid pieces of linoleum. They were much more durable than a host of cheaper patterned linoleums on the market at the time. Cheaper versions were printed with thinner layers and more prone to wear and tear. (Source: Wikipedia) Hence, the word “Genuine” was in the context of lower-grade competitors of the time, and had no reference to wood or natural flooring options.
“What were you thinking, lady?!?” Well, she could have been thinking a couple of things! First, having a sanitary kitchen was highly valued in the 4os and 50s, probably as a consequence of fatal disease outbreaks in the war-time and post-war period. Second, in the aftermath of World War II, Americans were very conservative about parting with their hard-earned cash (Source: Retro Renovation). Linoleum was considered to be an excellent, inexpensive material for high use areas. Its water resistance enabled easy maintenance of sanitary conditions in the kitchen, and its resilience made standing easier and reduced breakage of dropped china (Wikipedia).
“Why is she laying tile in her Sunday Best?” We all know 1950s fashion was all about ultra-feminine style (think: Grace Kelly). And, even in the home, women dressed the part. (That was before the invention of the yoga pant, heehee!). But my real question is why was she wearing it laying tile?!?
It was the era of the “happy homemaker” when women were encouraged to tend to the home while the ‘man of the house’ was working hard as the bread-winner (said sarcastically with a wink ;-)). As a result, DIY products like resilient floor tile were specifically marketed to the ‘Mrs.’ of the home, and advertised as ‘easy-to-install’ (RetroRenovation.com). You’ll notice that the copy reads: “Precision cut – your floor almost fits itself into place. And for irregular areas, simply cut Gold Seal Linoleum Tile with a knife!” So easy, apparently, that a 1950s homemaker had no problem attempting it a delicately styled dress!
So I get it. Linoleum = clean and durable. Household finances and disease can be big motivators! But, I’m still confused about all those crazy colours and patterns. Hmmm… maybe I’ll have to investigate that one later in the series!
Every vintage ad tells a story!
See you next time,
P.S. This post is part of a 31 Day Series on vintage home decor advertising. To see the other posts, just click on the button at the top of the screen in the righthand sidebar!