Today we’ll be taking a trip down memory lane looking at how cruise ship interiors have evolved from the original luxury ocean liners, through the Love Boat era, to modern day. Cruise interiors are constantly adapting and developing due to outside factors – from the growing sizes of vessels, to changing SOLAS requirements, to anticipation and creation of trends. In addition to this, cruise interior designers are often provided with far more limiting briefs than their on-land counterparts. They must work within rigid size, weight, and material restrictions. It is these limitations however, that often produce the best work – and today we’re looking at the evolution of this work through the decades!

Read on to delve into the interiors of TSS Awatea, a USSCo ship from the mid-1930s, and P&O (originally Orient Line) Orcades, before and after her 1959 refit.


1930/40s – TSS Awatea

Affectionately named ‘The Queen of the Tasman Sea‘, TSS Awatea was built in 1935 for the Union Steam Ship Company. While she was designed to provide the fastest possible passage between New Zealand and Australia, Awatea didn’t hold back on the interior spaces.

The two above images of the Observation Deck (left) and the Main Lounge (right), show a mix of class and relaxation aboard Awatea. The glass-enclosed Observation Deck features wicker seating, popular at the time, which is both light and comfortable. The Main Lounge leans heavily into the Art Deco style of the time. Its rounded balconies feature stainless steel railings reminiscent of a theatre. Designing the lounge across two decks allowed for the inclusion of a large cinema screen. In the image above, this is covered by maritime-themed decorative sliding panels.

The left image above shows the moody bar lounge, clad in rich wood panelling and complete with solid dark wood furniture. The opulent 30’s style continues here with a large feature mirror and floral wall coverings.

The image on the right gives an idea of the entertainment of the day, with a baby grand piano sitting in the corner of the music room. Through the decorative doors to the left you can see the observation deck as featured above.


1940/50s – P&O Orcades

While these photos were taken in the 1950s, Orcades didn’t have her first refit until 1959. Therefore, the cabin fittings, furniture, and textiles pictured are likely the ones she launched with in 1948. This influence is clear in the almost art-deco, dark wood furniture (with slight curved edges, and possible bakelite handles).

The textiles follow a nautical theme with a seabird motif print across the bed and other loose furniture in the cabin.

The smoking lounge in the third image has a slight art deco hangover similar to the cabins. It also features rounded, heavy-looking furniture and dark wood panelling.

The above two images are of SS Orcades c1960, which would be following a 1959 refit. The image of the cabin (on the left) shows slightly updated textiles – in particular the armchairs and stool, which introduce an atomic element popular in the 50s. The addition of what is possibly laminated wood furniture brings Orcades up to date for 1959.

Dinner is a more formal-looking affair on Orcades, with understated flooring and furniture, and smart wood panel wall covering. The thin lines of the dining room seating also echo the atomic design popular at the time. The decorative elements have a nautical theme, with a large decorative clock in the mirror, and what looks like seahorse-shaped lighting on the far back wall.


Both ships feature great examples of interior design at the time, from the dark, heavy stylings of art deco furniture and fittings, to the lighter, sprightlier American and Scandinavian influence in the textiles and furniture of the late 50’s and early 60’s.


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