“EuroRemont” – Interior Design of Post-Soviet Russia

“What happened to Soviet style apartments after Perestroika” clearly won the contest of topics. In one word – what happened was “EuroRemont” – “Western kind of renovation”. Let’s see why I have put these words in quotes and what do they mean.

Cornucopia of Options and Deficit of Design Skills

Wallpaper choice

Wallpaper choice is difficult enough. Add the choice of tiles, floor, lamps etc.

For too long, basically for 70 years of Soviet time, Soviet citizens did not have much choice in interior design. Not having a choice was not a good thing, because absence of choice led to deficit of interior design skills and fantasy. At the same time, we know now that too much choice (The Paradox of Choice – a great book btw) does not lead to happiness. Having one clear idea how to blend in and stand out with several hard-to-get, but possible-to-get items (such as stenka), made life easier. And now what? How do I stand out in the modern time via my home interior? How do I choose wallpaper, tiles, furniture, lamps etc.? How can I make sure it all looks good?

EuroRemont – Inspiration from Movies and TV Series

At first, there were not so many interior design magazines, and there were not professional interior designers. So, the inspiration came from movies and TV series. And it did form a certain style, which was called EuroRemont – Western Renovation. What was it like? First of all – white walls, preferably painted white walls.

One can argue that people just were tired from the ornaments of the Soviet style wallpaper and wanted to start their life from a clean slate. That may be one of the drivers. But the main driver was in Brazilian soap operas – such as Slave Izaura and in the beloved Santa Barbara soap opera.

Popularity of the first soap operas was beyond imaginable. There were no crimes reported on the streets of Moscow during the time of new episode broadcasts. Gangsters are also people, and they wanted to know how the saga develops, will Cruz and Eden marry, will Izaura get free from her sleazy boss etc. And all the villas and fazendas from these TV series had white walls, so white walls immediately became the standard of a modern Russian interior design. That is quite funny – in warmer countries white walls serve their purpose – it is too hot, so you do not want your walls to absorb any heat. Here in Russia it is almost always cold. I bet that if we had Jeeves&Wooster TV series on TV at that time – we would’ve opted for the colonial British design with dark green walls and wooden panels instead. But it was what it was.

In addition to white walls, villas and houses of California, Mexico and South America countries often have light-colored furniture or really bright furniture, especially sofas. In the movies sometimes couches are made of white leather. White leather couches have become incredibly popular. James Bond movies also often had leather couches and armchairs, which only supported the idea. Also, Bond’s style included a lot of technical gadgets – TV sets which emerged from the walls, as well as aquariums and other “luxury items”.

That was the time, when a) home entertainment (video players) was on the rise and b) restaurant business did not emerge yet. So people mostly entertained guests at home and having a white living room with a white leather sofa, modern “home theater” and some unusual interior design items (such as an aquarium or an unusual lights in the ceiling) was super cool.

Influence of Asian Luxury and Tsar Luxury

You would suspect that the white walls, modern gadgets and furniture would lead us to a minimalist interior design – sleek, modern and stylish. But you forget two things: a) we are in between Europe and Asia and we have a penchant for a truly Asian luxury – gold, carpets, ornaments and b) we have had Tsar dynasties and still could see how Tsars lived in the numerous palaces, especially nearby St’Petersburg.

Peterhof Tsar palace interior

Peterhof Tsar palace interior

People who started to earn money wanted to incorporate part of that luxury in their interiors. Most of the time the result was a bit bizarre – a typical “EuroRemont” apartment of the post-Perestroika time had white walls, gadgets and some modern furniture. But it could also include Persian carpets on the floor (and walls), lots of elaborate decorations and even furniture à la Ludvig the 15th – chairs with the gold-plated curved legs and armrests. “Expensive and rich” – that was the motto.

Dealing with Limited Space


Jacuzzi – one of the elements of “luxury life”

One of the most frequent issues was a lack of space. Typical Soviet apartments did not get any bigger after Perestroika, so people had to deal with spaces ranging from 33 square meters to a maximum of 70-80 square meters. As we know from the earlier posts – Soviet apartments were designed so that they accommodate as many family members as possible – sometimes several generations. So, even if one person was buying a relatively large apartment for his/her own use, it was still divided in small rooms. That did not fit the “movie-style living” of large open spaces.

Answer to that was often simple – just break the unnecessary walls. Quite often that was the wrong answer – since some walls do serve their purpose of holding the house. There were a lot of curiosities – when large jacuzzi fell down onto the floor to the apartment below. (jacuzzi was another element of “luxury life”).

Era of Interior Designers and Interior Design Magazines

Interior design magazines

Interior design magazines often advertised luxury as the central theme (as in this particular issue)

Of course, such a huge market niche could not stay free for long. In the beginning of 2000s, magazines and designers mushroomed and flourished. I have some interior design magazines of that time – some of their advice was useful and professional, but a lot of them were far from perfect. Same thing – for interior designers. Not many designers had professional education and experience – they often wanted to create nice unusual projects for their portfolios rather than create living spaces, where it would be comfortable to live. Often such projects included elaborate decoration, cascades of lights, hanging from the ceiling, mixture of styles, too much glass and other non-warm materials. But still it was good to have designers and magazines – it was a big help for people.

How Is It Now?

It really depends on the family and their taste, but I would say that things are more or less normal now. Interior design magazines and TV shows, designers, IKEA stores and worldwide travel did make a positive impact. Also, interiors of public places (cafes and such) gave people ideas. A lot of residential interiors are still eclectic, but at least they reflect the taste of owners. It is ok to have an eclectic space if the owners feel comfortable in it. I personally am happy that people can now have any interior design they like.

Now it is more about the cost. Renovations are very expensive since most of the materials are imported. But even an average income city family can do something in their apartment to make it cozier. It takes some time to develop good taste for interior design or any kind of design. I hope that people will experiment as much as they can and enjoy that.

Next post will be about carpets – why Russians love them, why some Russians have carpets not only at the floor, but also at walls, what do carpets mean as status symbols etc.

Leave a Reply

  • Anonymous - 7 years ago

    (That’s me who left a comment on your ‘Russian Hospitality’ article yesterday. I will definitely wait for a new article about language and its difficulties!).

    Dear Tanya,
    I come to my one Russian friend from time to time. Her flat looks well-arranged but… the one thing that catches my eye every time I open the door is that there´s plenty of old furniture (even from 50-s or early 60-s)!
    That seems a bit strange for me. My neighbours’ flat has some features, but the majority is rather modern and has a very different design from what I’ve seen in Moscow. You’ve written that many flats have an eclectic style but why? Only because of convenience? A question is, do you really appreciate its quality (don’t even know how to express) or you like how its outlook fits the interior (well, if the condition spoils you Russians even do have a time to renovate it) or can it be a strong feeling of nostalgy about soviet times? Because some members of my friend’s family say sometimes that there was much better quality or whatever in USSR and now you won’t buy a better thing anywhere else. I can’t judge, I didn’t live in one of the former republics.
    So, what’s the concrete matter? Actually I don’t have enough courage to ask them about that. Can it be true that half of Russians has a positive attitude to the EuroRemont and the other half doesn’t? I’m so sorry if I confused you. :/
    An article is amazing again. Good job, keep writing more and more cathing articles about Russia! Best whishes and lots of love and kisses from Slovenia :)

    • Tanya Golubeva - 7 years ago

      Thank you very much for your kind words!

      It is very difficult to say why your friends have furniture from the 50s-60s in their apartment without knowing them.
      There could be many possible explanations. Maybe they just like the style of that furniture. Maybe it belonged to their relatives and they are keeping it out of emotional reasons. Or maybe they just do not think about replacing the old furniture since it is still functional (Russians in general do not like to throw away things that are not broken).
      Regarding the eclectic styles of some apartments – I think that the main reason is that in Soviet time people did not have much choice of furniture and decorations. So most apartments looked pretty similar and, growing up, people did not see interesting interior design ideas. And when suddenly all kinds of furniture became available, people did not know how to furnish their homes so that everything is in one style. Interior design magazines were not available yet, so people took inspiration from movies and TV soap operas. It takes some time to develop style and I am sure that with time apartments will become more stylish as people learn from good examples, travel and see more and more beautiful interiors.

      Finally – regarding the quality of things, produced in Soviet time. For most things and goods – it is a myth that things were better made in the USSR. But you are right – there is a lot of nostalgia for that time.

  • Anonymous - 5 years ago

    I just recently happened upon your site, and am truly enjoying learning about your country. Over time, I hope to cover the entire site and learn much about Russia, its people and mindset.