chapter  5
Modern designer liners
Pages 33

From 1930 onwards, ocean liner interiors gradually developed away from the

revivalism of the earlier twentieth century, towards a more modern and self-

consciously contemporary style. It is tempting to polarize this period of ship interior

design as a battle of styles, between reforming modernism and intransigent

periodization. However, the shift was gradual and the themes of national identities

and the growing professionalization of design practice are just as significant to an

understanding of the history of the interior design of liners of this era. Frequently,

ships of this period were a blend of modernism, art deco and streamlining with

touches of humour and wit, luxury and glamour. The designer interior was in the

ascendancy in this period, whereby the modern architect would have complete

control over the décor, most notably with the Orient Line’s Orion. This type of interior was to rise in prominence, and begin to eclipse the role of the decorating firm and also

the influence of the ‘Chairman’s wife’. This growing hegemony can best be understood

as part of the professionalization of interior design, which marginalized women and

decoration, and privileged modernism and the male designer. The move also reflected

a prejudice against French art deco. As a result of the decline in emigration to North

America and the concurrent rise in the popularity of cruising, liner design began to

feature permeable divisions between outside and inside. Beginning with the German

Bremen, moving through the French Normandie and British Queen Mary, there was a quest to use designers on behalf of the line owners to express national identities to the

world and create the most appealing and fashionable surroundings for travel and

leisure in an increasingly competitive market. As Adrian Forty has argued: ‘No design

works unless it embodies ideas that are held in common by the people for whom the

object is intended’ (Forty 1986: 245).