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MODERN INTERIORS TODAY AND TOMORROW takes on something of a time warp by way of this book’s year of publication, 1939. Speciality is noted as well in its subtitle: A Critical Analysis of Trends in Contemporary Decoration as Seen at the Paris Exposition of Arts and Techniques and Reflected at the New York World’s Fair. 

Modern Interiors Today and Tomorrow, by Emily Genauer, Illustrations Editions Company, 1939

Emily Genauer was editor of the Fine and Decorative Arts Sections, The New York World-Telegram. She observed that in 1937 “the International Exposition of Arts and Techniques opened in Paris and continued for many months to draw to the banks of the Seine countless millions of persons from the farthest corners of the Earth.”

Genauer described, “It was what happened in Paris which is directly responsible for the present aspect of American modern decoration, and which accounts for the amazing change in scene confronting the public at the New York World’s Fair, 1939.” 

Genauer continued (somewhat breathlessly), “The Paris International Exposition of Arts and Techniques is history now. The fireworks, which nightly transformed the murky Seine into fluid silver, have sputtered into nothingness…. The colossal machines, the fine furniture, the priceless pictures, the glass houses with great stout trees growing up through their floors, the fountain that breathed a fragrant shower of red wine—all have been carted away. The visitors are back in Britanny, Algiers, Finland, Podunk. And nothing is left on the Exposition grounds but Paris itself—which ought to be enough for anyone, anyway.” 

Gee, Genauer makes us all the more grateful for this 3.3-lb., 255-page summary of these two events. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits selected from this book (by a confessed admirer of Mid-century Modern).

A Living Room de Vacances. “This large, casual interior,” Genauer wrote, “was designed as the main living room of what the French call a Club de Vacances or summer camp.”

A Club de Vacances living room. This and following images from Modern Interiors.

One of my favorites, this room features “shelves for books and magazines, a radio concealed in the shelves, a fireplace for warmth, a couple of card tables in the corner where the light is particularly good, a large variety and number of comfortable, well-upholstered metal-frame chairs, and, prize feature of the room, a large ping-pong table separated by a net so the ball won’t go bouncing off onto people’s heads. It suggests an excellent idea for indoor entertainment in bad weather. The library table in the left foreground of the picture would make a fine, capacious dining table.”

In my Cleveland youth, I recall several families with ping-pong tables in their basement-converted rec rooms. None thought of the net.

A Rustic  Studio. Genauer commented on “a rustic studio in the Belgian pavilion, with many ideas in it for urban decoration as well, among them the arrangement of suspended wall cabinets where space is at a premium.… It is difficult to decide which is most appealing, the wonderful grain of the wood, the neat, compact and practical arrangement of the furniture, or the wealth of fresh and ingenious ideas in the room.”

A Belgian studio.

I particularly admire the worktable’s adjustable angle. My living room has a large such table, acquired at an antique mall and supposedly from a New Mexico architect. 

My articulated drafting table.

Updating a Mansion Staircase. Genauer observed, “No commonplace decorative treatment could possibly have been appropriate for the remodelled version of this romantic staircase that started its career by being built, nearly three hundred years ago, so stoutly that the proprietor of the great mansion of which it was a part could exercise its royal-given prerogative of riding up to the second floor without dismounting from his horse.”

The architect devised swirling figure-eight curves sweeping up the railing. The same pattern recurs on the elevator’s arched door.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Genauer and we continued our viewing of Modern Interiors (including a room akin to the Hunding residence in Die Walküre and another possibly influenced by the Hays Code. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 


  1. szulc
    July 13, 2022

    Love the figure eight curves on the elevator door!

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