Little Lulu, the early years

SHERWIN WILLIAMS 1934-The New Home Decorator

Old catalogs give us a peek into the lives, homes, tastes of either real or idealized consumers. Here's a vintage Sherwin Williams Paint Catalog, and its idea of the home of the American family of 1934.

1934- The US was in The Great Depression, Oklahoma was becoming The Dust Bowl, Hitler was on the rise, Mao Tse Tung began the 6,000 mile march, nylon was invented, Donald Duck made his first appearance in a movie, Babe Ruth hit his 700th Home Run, RCA Victor released the first 33 1/3 RPM (long play) record. The average new home cost $6,000, a gallon of gas cost ten cents. What can you read into this  1934 Sherwin Williams Catalog?


Sherwin Williams, New Home Decorator, 1934, cover, women in conversation
The New Home Decorator. Sherwin Williams. Liza Cowan ephemera collections

Sherwin Williams, The New Home Decorator, 1934 Cover



Sherwin Williams, the new home decorator
Sherwin Willams, 1934, The Joys Of Colorful LivingLiza Cowan Ephemera Collections

Sherwin Williams, 1934, The Joys Of Colorful Living

"Years of Lasting Happiness can be achieved with Sherwin-Williams Quality Paint. Painting offers the most natural way in the world to escape the drabness of dingy surroundings. We can see Nature busily engaged in the selfsame process on every hand. As she hides the grimness of winter landscape with every fresh snowfall she suggests how completely dingy houses and shabby woodwork can be transformed with paint."

Metaphor? Prescription?? I love the language: dense, descriptive and flowery. Why, even the rocks and flowers are provide for our enjoyment. By the landscaper or by God, we are not told.

"No place on earth is too barren for Nature to dress in color. Some of our softest woodwork and wall colors are suggested by the desert sands, the lava grays and the sage brush. Natural earths are dug up for our siennas, umbers, browns and terra verte, From iron ore comes a wide variety of reds and purples. If fact everywhere we go we have only to look with open eyes to see how generously color is provided for our enjoyment in rocks, sand, sea and flowers."




Sherwin Williams, The Modern Dining Room, 1934
Sherwin Williams, The Modern Dining Room 1934

"Even the home of romping children can have this sunny dining room because tell-tale finger marks tell their tale only once with washable flat-Tone Walls."



 Sherwin williams the new decorator, 1934
Sherwin Williams 1934, A Homey Living Room

"You will observe that your friends will notice and comment upon your painted walls. They are quick to sense a tailor-made quality which is just as individual in decoration as it is in clothing"




Sherwin Williams, 1934, S-W velvet finish varnish woman varnish table
Sherwin Williams, velvet finish varnish 1934. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections

Elegant, tailored, but still the housewife is the one doing the painting in this picture. There are some in the catalog where a professional is doing the work. You can tell because he is wearing painter whites, and a cap.  The Depression is hitting everyone. She is still in an apron and high heels, though.



Sherwin williams 1934 dex linoleum varnish
Sherwin Wiliams, DEX Linoleum Varnish. 1934, Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections


 Sherwin williams, 1934, more beautiful kitchens
Sherwin Williams, 1934, More Beautiful Kitchens

"The colors you like, easily kept immaculate - that's what makes a happy kitchen"



 Sherwin williams, 1934, Breakfast room, breakfast nook
Sherwin Williams, 1934, Breakfast Room, Breakfast Nook

"Here's a suggestion: Tack up a little sign over the breafast room door to read, "OUR COFFEE SHOPPE" The proceed to make it the cheeriest little corner you know how...just as if you were in dead earnest to attract particular customers to sample "the finest home cooking!"



 Sherwin williams, 1934, the living porch, recreation room, ping pong
Sherwin Williams, 1934, The Living Porch, Recreation Room

"What happens to the children's clothing when they play and tumble around on the average porch? The answer tells why mothers get gray! ...A housewife can thoroughly enjoy a porch like this because it measures up to her idea of cleanliness."

The subtext to this, and to the rec room, I think, is that in hard times, clothing must be carefully preserved, middle class household can't afford servants to do the laundry, and we take our vacations at home. Reminds me of commercials on TV now that feature people camping in their back yards, picniking in their living rooms. Hard times.


 Sherwin williams, joys of colorful living with sw enamaloid 1934
Sherwin Williams, 1934, Enameloid


"Begin your Joys of Colorful Living with S-W Enameloid. "Its fun to do such jobs as these with Enameloid because all the hard work and inconvenience have been taken out...We suggest that you look over pieces in your home, similar to those illustrated here. See if re=finishing a few pieces in your spare moments will not offer a solution to the new color scheme for the home."



 Sherwin williams 1924, well painted homes are the best evidence of a good farm
Sherwin Williams, 1934, Evidence of a good farm

"A barn like this painted in S-W Comonweath Bard Red is a mark of distinction. It is an evidence of thrift, good sound business judgment and an appreciation of the value of good appearance."


  Sherwin williams farm, framed
Jane Winfrey's great grandfather's farm, Kansasville, KS, painted for Sherwin-Williams advertising 1934


Wonder of wonders, this came in from a reader -  the great grand daughter of the farm's owner :

Gobsmacked by Commonwealth Barn Red: Jane Winfrey

I just came upon an image I've yearned to find for decades! In the 1930s Sherwin Williams featured houses that fit right into the Blandings fantasy. The houses were painted by S-W in exchange for the right to use them in advertisements. My great-grandfather's farm was the illustration for one of the ads. Family lore had it that he was very pleased with himself for having had the farm painted at no expense. My Dad spent summers there and remembered the ad in The Saturday Evening Post. But in keeping with a Kansasville, WI, no-nonsense sensibility, no one in the family held on to a copy. It might have seemed, well, too full of oneself.

In the 1950s Dad's aunt ran the farm and visits there were heaven for my cousins and me. I learned to ride on a retired Tennessee walker and have remained horse crazy all my life. The barns, the Guernseys, the enormous kitchen where our great aunt would serve meals for all the farm help - are all irrevocably of an era so far in the past it may as well be centuries.


It passed along this way.  My great-grandparents had three sons and one daughter, Maude.  When the four of them inherited the farm Maude had been married and - horrors! - gotten divorced. Since a divorced mother would have no way of supporting herself - how could she have a job if she had a child? - my grandfather and his two brothers gave her their shares of the farm so she would  "have a home and something to fall back on." 

The brothers went on to become engineers, etc. in Chicago and New York but always looked upon the farm as a perpetual guesthouse.  Two generations more or less maintained bedrooms, stored stuff in barns, generally enjoyed themselves and helped out a bit, and brought their kids to learn how it all worked. 

Maude's last survivor, her daughter-in-law, sold the farm in the 1960s.  There was no one to continue it but many of us with memories that made deep impressions, all good.


Scrolling through Liza's vintage booklet of bakelite colors and housewives in heels was so entertaining. I was completely startled to see the farm and in a flash of recognition become nine years old. I am not tall enough to throw the saddle over a horse's back so my 70 year old aunt is helping me. She would never fathom the life I would lead. The barn was probably still Sherwin Williams Commonwealth Red.