1930s Apartment Inspiration

Could the 1930s offer apartment ideas for the modern person? I’d like to think so. Today’s posts centers on the sets of two Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray films, Hands Across the Table (1935) and True Confession (1937), which feature lower and upper middle class (Hollywood style no less) apartments that are beautifully designed. They’re great ideas for those who are in small spaces and looking for ideas, as well as interesting to study the sets. I think at times in films it can be difficult for the audience to notice all the details that make up the set.

Let’s take a look at Reggie’s (Carole Lombard) apartment in Hands Across the Table. Her character is meant to be a lower middle class New Yorker whose job is a manicurist. Art directors Roland Anderson and Hans Dreier worked with set furnisher A.E. Freudeman for this design.

This is the entrance/living room. I think the phone is cute and find the placement unique to be literally by the front door than say in the kitchen or bedroom. Notice the shelf right by the mirror Lombard is looking in. Do you see the radio? Some may choose to collect an old radio for decoration but I was also thinking of an auxiliary speaker for an MP3 player would be a good placement for those who have an apartment with an entrance similar. Those who have an actual hall might opt for wall art or a wall shelf. I like the placement of the chair in the corner because of it’s size really. Stackable chairs are great to put in a closet and bring out for guests nowadays.

Here’s the living area. I like the love seat and arm chair as the sole pieces to the living room set which are great ideas of how to furnish a living room with limited space. (A loveseat is also great to put if you an usual floor plan/nook.) Additionally, the furniture shows that singles and couples may opt for a loveseat instead of a couch unless they’re the type who like to lay down while watching TV. Like most mantles, there’s a painting (right) that is a perfect size, not too large or too small to be above the mantle. It doesn’t overpower that space. The mantle itself is nearly bare, except for a frame and unidentifiable figurine. Less is more in small spaces, cluttered or completely covered shelves can potentially give the illusion of an even smaller space in my opinion. I also want to note the curtains to divide the kitchen from the living room. For studio apartments particularly, the decision of how to divide the bedroom from the rest of the apartment can be a challenge. Unlike in the 30s, there’s more options for dividers, you can find curtains at stores like Ikea that divide the room and allow for privacy while letting light in, opt for the classic folding screen (you can’t see it in the picture but on the left one behind the floor lamp where the bedroom door is. If you watch the film you will see it) or a wall shelf.

Here’s what we see of the bedroom and bathroom. On the left of the bedroom, I like the light on the headboard and the two drawer nightstand with a skirt. Nightstands are great storage spaces beyond the usual reading material, medication, eyeglasses, etc. With small boxes or containers you can organize accessories like jewelry or cufflinks, store a set of sheets, pajamas, those with a shelf or cupboard door may choose to put a container and cup of water, a hobby like knitting/coloring book/sketchbook, a mini plug in fan if you live in warm climate, a speaker for your ipod or phone. Some people choose mirrored or glass nightstands to give the illusion of more space. Bedside tables really say a lot about a person so it should fit the personality of the individual in terms of design and function. For this set, we can at least see on top of the nightstand there’s a small box and dish by the lamp. On the right, this is the standard bathroom of the era with the small sink and medicine cabinet/mirror. Older homes may still have the original tiled walls and such but from the photos I’ve seen on real estate sites, most homeowners choose to upgrade to a modern sink. Obviously we have an extremely limited view of the bathroom but I thought it was worth a look anyway.

I really love the dining area (this is not another room in the apartment). The table is small but not limiting for two people to comfortably dine. (Round tables are also really great in my opinion for small spaces!) The chairs are padded and could probably be used for extra company. The shelf of dishes is a great idea to display or store vintage/retro dishware or floating shelves to display anything you want. Or hang art. I love looking at the dishes on the table. Prop masters especially may take great time studying what types of dishes and bottles were used for certain eras. While it’s difficult to see everything clearly, there’s glass bottles on the back edge of the table that I assume are ketchup or tobasco sauce, salt and pepper.


In True Confession (1937), Helen (Lombard) is a writer and her husband Kenneth (MacMurray) Bartlett is an upcoming lawyer living in this apartment. Once again, art director Roland Anderson and set furnisher A.E. Freudeman worked together along with art director Robert Usher. Immediately you’re going to notice that this apartment has more space and how it’s utilized.


Here’s the entrance of the apartment. (Sorry for the blurry photo, it was hard to get a clear screenshot!) We can infer that the table on the far left probably is next to a door or hall where the bedroom and bathroom are. Una Merkel is leading the way towards the living area.


Here’s the living area with a front side view and the back view. Unlike Reggie’s love seat and arm chair combo, here we have a full size couch and two arm chairs. I like the bookshelves (the second is cut off on the right image, left side) which is another difference from Reggie’s place. I think there was one on the other side of the door in the film. The Bartlett’s two shelves aren’t crammed but we can assume Ken keeps his law books there and Helen may keep a collection of literature since she’s a writer. There’s more tables in this room. On the image on the left, notice the table by the window, probably the breakfast nook that I could see as an option to put a bench or short bookcase at, a table on each side of the couch as well as one behind. There’s also a touch of colonial inspired furniture with the chair at the desk (see right photo and look in far left). Wall art is with a nature theme this time and the one above the mantle and bookcase are square. The oval frames between the mantle are so classic to me and a great idea for those wanting a vintage feel with their frames or content of art.


Past the living room is this space between that and the dining room where Helen writes her stories. In the background there’s a row of drawers and curtained glass cabinets. I don’t believe this would be for kitchen ware because the drawers do not look as though they’d have much space if they even were to function, except maybe the cabinets for china ware or a decorative dish. But I could be wrong? After all, there’s a tray displayed in the center on the counter. On the far right I want to say that’s the radio but when I look in the screenshot below it could be the side of a toaster? This side of the apartment shows there’s so many more windows in this apartment and the curtains are the standard sheer white sets that we’ve seen before in other films. There’s the silhouette of potted plants on each window sill as well.


Here’s the dining room. I can see a table set like this in a home today actually. Although those on a budget may struggle finding an affordable antique dining table set depending on how old they want it to be and where they buy it from. Notice the sunflower painting on the wall, coordinating with the living room’s wall art. Unlike Reggie’s table, there’s no tablecloth or bottles demonstrating that this is probably for formal meals than the everyday lunch or dinner. I like the light fixtures of the fake candle. The swinging door leads to the kitchen that we never get to see.

Another thing I want to point out are the differences in wallpaper. The Bartlett’s apartment wallpaper is difficult to see clearly even when watching the film but it appears to be a muted floral pattern while Reggie’s has a distinct diamond and dot pattern. How would the set alter if the wallpapers were swapped? Why did the art directors choose the design the specific apartments? That’s just what I wondered as I thought about the apartment designs during screenshots.

I hope these set designs inspire those who are interested in adapting 1930s style in their apartment or fun for those interested in the art direction.

*Cover photo source from Carole and Co.


2 thoughts on “1930s Apartment Inspiration

  1. Pingback: 1930s Fashions: Seen on Carole and Fred – Vintage Stardust

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