45 Interior Design and Furniture in the USSR

Interior Design and Furniture in the USSR

Posted on August 27, 2009 by team


Welcome!

Welcome!

As previously stated, the majority of people in the USSR lived in the apartments. Unfortu­nately, due to the the time constraints, they had to be built in a speedy rather than comfortable manner. After the war, when accommodation was extremely scarce, a three bed room flat could accommodate up to 16 people (four average families), with one shared kitchen and one shared bathroom.  The quality of living there was truly horrendous.  So when Khr­uschev started his building binge in 1960s, a joke went that the legacy of those communal flats was agoraphobia – the fear of open spaces and the tendency to hoard things. Well, if you spent your formative years in a pokey flat where you’d have to dry your laundry next to the stove, you’d be just as agoraphobic.

So let’s look at the main trends in the interior design Soviet style.


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PERSONAL  ATTACHMENT

The severe deficits caused by planned economy had turned every Soviet into a thrifty squir­rel hoarding everything, from tin cookie boxes to imported shampoo bottles. Everything which had a semipractical implication (take an old toothbrush, pluck all the bristle out, heat it over a fire to bend in the middle – voile! You just made your self a wonderful hook to hang clothes!) would have been kept for years, hence the over all cluttered look of a typical Soviet flat.

This is still "All in One" flat.

This is still “All in One” flat.

THE HABIT TO HOARD

As we have figured, it grew out of extreme consumerism poverty, which barely any body could escape. The constant visual hunger for pretty household things  (say, the k-mart level would have been to die for, yet it was not there!) had lead to the lack of under standing of the true value of items. Hence the quantity of furniture items in a given flat was equated with the social status of its own ers and over all achieving abilities. Considering there were no Tiffany lamps or Barcelona chairs, typically it was a sad cemetery of depressing clutter.

In a furniture shop.

In a furniture shop.

FURNITURE ESSENTIALS

During the Soviet times, the furniture shops had a truly non-existent range of furniture items. That’s why 95% of all apartments looked very much alike. The wall units were a must have, as they allowed lots of storage space and display. The sofa with two matching chairs was a popular item, how ever the irony was that the chairs were matching across the country. A lamp on a stand (aka torchere, after its French name) was also available.

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45 Responses to “Interior Design and Furniture in the USSR”

  1. Slava says:

    First u mofos!

  2. Anonimus says:

    Slava, yes, many families still have soviet furniture. But you should know – soviet furniture manufactured by true wood. Now wooden furniture is not cheap.

    Soviet furniture user. :)

    • tigra says:

      Genuine oak furniture in the Main Building of Moscow State University is so qualitatively made that still preserves it’s shine and steadiness (produced in 1953, according to the paper tag whcih I found on the opposise side of the drawer(!)). When Stalin wanted it – they could do the best quality!

  3. Kirov says:

    I am really ashamed to be a Russian.

  4. Jason says:

    My wife had a nice oak cabinet/closet in her apartment like the one in the third pic down.A closet was not instaled in her 70 year old apartment but the small kitchen was in a seperate room unlike other apartment buildings.

  5. Hobbit says:

    On my visits to the Russian Federation, I have seen apartments that still look like the photographs.

    I also visited some apartments that were totally remodeled. I will say the wall rug is a must in the Soviet era apartments. The old Soviet era walls need the extra sound proofing. The rug also lower the noise reflecting inside the apartment. After a week of cloudy days in November, the rug add a welcome bit of color.

    If you ever lived in Rochester NY in early winter, you will understand Moscow’s cloudy weather. No sun, clouds and some early snow fall. Anything for some color in the day or evening.

    As for the furniture, the Polish sets still in use seem to be ok made. They are sure outlasting any Wal-Mart or KMart items from 19 years ago.

    Not much difference in design from one place to the next. However, each time I think of it, I smile. I remember the movie Irony of Fate. It may be old and part of history, but it is easy to see part of that era in some apartments today.

    An evening at the kitchen table drinking tea or vodka brings a warm glow to the heart. The homes of Russians which I visited were always a warm friendly time. This is missing from the photographs comments. Then again most photographs do not show the people, only empty space.

  6. I’ve never visited Russia (unfortunately) but in Russian movies I often see padded doors — maybe doors covered with some sort of tufted fabric or leather. In Semnadcat’ mgnovenij vesny, even the German SS officers have offices with padded doors.

    What’s with that? I’ve never seen it in the U.S. Is it a uniquely Russian thing?

    • Hobbit says:

      The door is a metal fire proof door. It is not great to look at such door. The covering makes it seem less cold and more home like. I have not seen it done in USA. I have seen wood covering the metal in USA.

  7. tobymarx says:

    I’ve long been a follower and admirer of your website and have commented on various things that I particularly liked, especially your essays about the Soviet Union. I like this little piece quite a lot. Thanks so much for all of these wonderful insights into Russian life and culture.

  8. bca says:

    The pictures actually aren’t so bad, compared to how the author describes the typical Soviet apartment. 16 people to a bathroom sounds bad but the pictures look like people lived pretty comfortably given the circumstances of what few products were available.

    I am an American and fan of Soviet manufactured things. They’re utilitarian. They’re simple and unattractive but they get the job done. Today’s manufactured goods and electronics are complex and feature packed but cheaply made and meant to be replaced in a few years, so sad.

    Keep in mind that things like bamboo curtains, macrame, appliqué sofa covers and synthetic flowers could be found in the 1970s USA too.

  9. Jennidy says:

    I grew up in America but studied in Moscow for part of college. I was thrilled (thrilled!) by the ever-ubiquitous shkaf! I wish I could find one in America. The rugs on walls, too. Brilliant. When I was there Ikea was very big. I wonder what a hybrid 20th Century Soviet/ 21st Century Scandinavian flat would look like??
    I hope Wal-Mart doesn’t catch on too much in Russia. Here in America it seems that nothing is built to last, unless you spend a fortune on it.
    p.s. I love your collaborations. Thank you!

    • Jason says:

      There are Ikea stores in America so I am sure someday there will be Wal Marts in Russia.I have been in the Ekaterinburg Ikea Mega Mall and it is nicer than the malls in my city.

    • CZenda says:

      IKEA is no way selling a 21st century furniture. Most of it resembles furniture from the golden years of Scandinavian furniture design (60s) or is a quotation of Swedish country style. Some things they sell are pure 70s atrocities.

  10. pimp says:

    Just horrible, drunk Russians can not do anything right.

  11. Kirov says:

    Here in Astrakhan most people still live like this, max. 8m2 p/person [official Soviet standards late '70s], at least in our apartment building. It is looking cosy, but the lack of privacy and the aftereffects of that are devastating: alcoholism, domestic abuse, rudeness to one another to an extend you will not believe… Imagine a family of 2 parents, a grandmother, + 2 grown-up children with their partners and a few small children, all living in the same small 35m2 apartment, with bedding sheets separating the ‘private’ areas from each other. Sad sad sad.

  12. Leo Petr says:

    A nice handmade carpet is decorative when hung on a wall in a Canadian house, or so my parents would attest.:-)

  13. Vadim says:

    It’s like that movie “Ирония судьбы”. Where the guy doesn’t realize he’s in another city, but his exact address exists, the building looks exactly the same, and the apartment looks exactly the same.

  14. I guess russians prefer ikea nowadays…

  15. K says:

    I just got a flat with a few friends (not in Russia) and I’m going to hang up my (Russian) grand father’s rug on the wall and top it off with IKEA furniture. It’s going to look great!

    • CZenda says:

      Think twice about what you buy there. The quality of some stuff sold in IKEA is tragic – the furniture is cheap and it goes without saying it is not designed to last for more than, say, 5 years.
      My experience is that, very generally speaking, anything made purely out of massive wood is much safer bet than e.g. upholstered items.
      I remember we had a good laugh with my relatives in L.A. about a garlic press from IKEA – both of us broke it :D

  16. Rigs-in-Gear says:

    This is a great article. I love the grim prose vis-a-vis the charming, if lifeless, photos. Indeed, rugs on walls were pretty common in the U.S. in the ’70s. I had a zebra-print rug on my living room wall through much of that decade. With a potted palm, of course.

  17. Rick says:

    Never been to Russia but I lived in Mongolia for awhile. The apartment pictures looks like our old UB 5th floor walk up. I think there was only one communist era architect since all the apartments look similar in China, Mongolia and I would guess Russia.

  18. Sahsa Pasha Pasha says:

    I visited an apartment decorated similarly. My hotel room was also decorated like this. The hotel room was the size of a walk-in closet here in the US. Soviets would save space in the bathroom by using a pivoting faucet for both the sink and the bathtub. I noticed this in some of the older apartments in Moscow. Do they still have these in the newer buildings?

  19. Kelly says:

    The sad thing is, most of the first and second-world countries are beginning to have a real sense of sameness in their furniture and other items. (corporate)Life imitates (lack of)Art.
    I’m 42-year old college graduate, but thinking of going back to vocational/technical school to learn some crafts, so I can build my own home and furniture, with a sense of individuality.

  20. Taupey says:

    I love small crowded space of warm wood, crisp white linen and lots of kitschy personalization. It makes me think of home and my grandparents. The carpet hung on the wall reminds me in a good way of Mongolian Ger. I understand the need for color in Winter and using carpets to help muffle sounds. Thanks again for interesting photographs.

  21. Pilar Gu says:

    Gutes Thema. Bin aber nicht ganz deiner Meinung, aber das ist ja auch kein Diskussionsforum hier. Bleibt am Ball.

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