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 bedroom 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.
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 semi-practical implication (take an old tooth brush, pluck all the bristle out, heat it over a fire to bend in the middle – voile! You just made yourself a wonderful hook to hang clothes!) would have been kept for years, hence the overall cluttered look of a typical Soviet flat.
The habit to hoard
As we have figured, it grew out of extreme consumerism poverty, which barely anybody 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 understanding of the true value of items. Hence the quantity of furniture items in a given flat was equated with the social status of its owners and overall achieving abilities. Considering there were no Tiffany lamps or Barcelona chairs, typically it was a sad cemetery of depressing clutter.
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, however 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.
That’s why kitschy personalising was so in: macramé, tile mosaics, appliqué sofa covers, embroidered curtains, construction out of matches and paper snowflakes on windows every winter. Plus the rest of what was thought to be pretty (stuffed toys as a decorative element, artificial flowers in plastic vases, bamboo curtains etc), the look was truly sad.
The standard Soviet wish list
Apart from wanting to own a flat, a motor vehicle and a summer bach on the allotment, the things that everybody desperately wanted to own included: a Yugoslavian wall unit (a piece of furniture having several units that stands against one wall of a room), a Polish bedroom suite, a collection of rugs (for the floors and for the walls, too!). A strange yet incredibly widespread habit of decorating the walls with rugs in the USSR took off in an instant and stayed till maybe late 1990s.
And finally some appliances “Made In the USSR”