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Decorate Like a Russian Posted by on Jul 5, 2012 in Culture, Traditions

From my philosophy course I remember that бытие определяет сознание (being determines consciousness). Understanding Russian/Soviet/post-Soviet/New Russian consciousness just from reading about the environment or even travelling to Russia for a few weeks is just like trying to understand what маракуйя (passion fruit) tastes like from reading about it or looking at pictures.

That’s what in-country language immersion programs are about. But if you can’t travel to Russia, then how about bringing Russia (or at least part of it) to you.  With this in mind, let’s get busy re-decorating your living room, Russian style.

Note: This is a post mostly about Soviet-era decor. However, many Russians I know still live with and in that style. Sure, the furniture is no longer the horrible Soviet гробы (lit: coffins), but rather expensive Italian гарнитуры (here: furniture sets). But the polished wood, glass and mirrored surfaces, elaborate window dressings are still here. But guess what? So are the potted plants and beautiful tea sets, and family pictures and many other things that make Russian homes such a wonderful mix of coziness and kitsch. 


First thing first, you must wallpaper your walls. I am not sure why краска (paint) alone doesn’t cut it. But a nice обои (wallpaper) is a must-have if you are decorating Russian-style and no, wall border won’t do. Ok, let’s define nice now. Go for either vertical stripes or small flowers or a combination of both. Or you can go with фото обои (photo murals)


While your wallpaper is drying, go buy the largest ковёр (carpet) you can find for your money. Every single apartment I’ve ever been to in Russia had at least one room with ковёр на стене (a carpet hung on a wall). The style of carpet is important, so listen carefully. It MUST be персидский ковёр (Persian carpet). No money for a real deal? No worries, a fake one will do just fine.

Back home, повесьте ковёр на стену (hang the carpet on the wall) and while you’re at it, take down the ceiling fan. Replace it with a real люстра (chandelier), a pride and joy of many Russian households even if it is стеклянная (made of glass) and not хрустальная (made of crystal) one. If any of your American friends question your choice, explain that it adds drama.

With all this косметический ремонт (redecorating) out of the way, it’s time to bring in the furniture. Hold on, not your old stuff. Instead, first thing that will go in is стенка (wall unit). Here’s something to look for when selecting a proper стенка. To begin with, it must be long enough to go along one entire стена (wall) in your room. Avoid открытые полки (open shelves) and instead opt for lots of doors, including large glass doors. Whether you choose тёмное (dark) or светлое (light) дерево (wood) is not nearly as important as it being полированное (polished, glassy surface).

Now you can bring back whatever couch you have and cover it with another fake Persian rug or any kind of плед (throw blanket). Have room enough for кресло (arm chair)? Make sure it matches the couch. No eclectic or flea market style is allowed.

And now it’s time to decorate windows. Window dressings are not optional in a Russian-style home. And жалюзи (blinds) alone do not count as полноценный (adequate) window coverings. You will need at least шторы (flat window panels). But why not go with гардины (draperies) complete with ламбрекен (window scarf) and a set of тюлевые шторы (lace curtains) behind them.

Hey, you’re almost done! It’s time to accessorise. Start with the wall unit. Remember, I told you to get the one with lots of стеклянные дверцы (glass doors)? That’s where you will need to put lots and lots of сувениры (souvenirs) and безделушки (tchotchkes), no matter how cheesy. Oh, family photos will go here to. No need to frame them either. Just prop them against a porcelain ballerina or a set of матрёшки (nesting dolls).

But I almost forgot one very important thing. Your чайный сервиз (tea service) and хрустальные фужеры (tall crystal glasses) will take a place of honor behind the glass doors of your стенка. Don’t tell me you haven’t got чайный сервиз! Ok, so you might be a bit broke after all this redecorating. But at least get the fanciest фарфоровый (made of porcelain) заварочный чайник (teapot) you can find.

Finally, you’ll need plenty of домашние растения (house plants), a few кружевные салфетки (doilies), ваза для цветов (a flower vase) or вазочка для конфет (a small candy bowl) and you are done!

Now invite your friends over на чаепитие (to tea), but don’t forget to set out enough домашние тапочки (house slippers) for them to change into.

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  1. Minority:


    Actually, pain won’t work ’cause we’ve got bad walls. It’s too hard to make then flat enough for a good look with paint only.
    And wallpapers feel better to touch (уверена, что сказала неправильно.. в общем – на ощупь обои приятнее, как правило).

    • yelena:

      @Minority Ah, you’re right. Now come to think about it, I remember my parents gluing layers and layers of old newspapers onto the walls in our apartment before they put wallpaper!

  2. Natalie:

    Dang, we used to have a персидский ковёр but I think we sold it on eBay! I guess I won’t be able to properly russify my house unless we buy another. 😉

    Great post, I learned a lot of decorating-related vocab. Though I am proud to say that I knew the word обои already from using my iPhone in Russian. I knew that using it in Russian would come in handy someday!

    • yelena:

      @Natalie Drat, Natalie, I guess your only option is to replace a carpet with фото обои (the ones that I saw at Russian homes usually had a waterfall in a forest theme).

  3. Phil:

    Absolutely perfect! Many of my Russian friends’ apartments in Houston were decorated exactly like this. In fact, the only thing I would add is that the wall unit should contain a pristine set of the Collected Works of Pushkin. The fancier, the better!

    • yelena:

      @Phil Phil, собрание сочинений (a collection of works) of Pushkin is an absolute must, of course! As they say, Пушкин – наше всё (Pushkin is our everything) 🙂

  4. Rob:

    Whether you choose тёмное (dark) or светлое (light) дерево (wood) is not nearly as important as it being полированное (polished, glassy surface).

    Yes, I can definitely vouch for this part! I can’t recall ever seeing wooden furniture in Russia with anything close to a “natural finish” (let alone a distressed/rustic finish).

    One thing not mentioned in the article (though it’s a bit related) is the interesting style of Russian bedsheets.

    In the US we generally have an elasticized “fitted sheet” that goes on the mattress, and a “flat sheet” that goes on top of that, under the blanket. In Russia, there are special fitted sheets that wrap not around the mattress, but around the blanket/quilt/comforter — my roommates and I referred to them as “quilt Pampers” (after the American brand of disposable diapers with elasticized legs).

    And often these blanket-wrappers had a sort of window on the top so that if your blanket/quilt was expensive and/or had an attractive design, it would be visible and not totally covered by the sheet.

  5. Rob:

    And wallpapers feel better to touch (уверена, что сказала неправильно.. в общем – на ощупь

    I think на ощупь is generally translatable as “to the touch”.

    (Saying “to touch” without the definite article is not necessarily incorrect here, but “to the touch” just sounds a bit more natural to me — in other words, using “touch” as a noun instead of a verb infinitive.)

  6. Rob:

    P.S. As an American, all I can say about the Russian mania for lace curtains is “На вкус и на цвет, товарищей нет!” 😛

    P.P.S. On the other hand, the Russian use of персидские ковёры as wall-hangings was immensely appealing and familiar to me because we did the same thing in our house when I was growing up! Technically our rugs were mostly from Turkey plus one from (I think) India, but they were essentially the same style of “Islamic prayer carpet,” i.e., with a stylized Lamp Of Allah’s Wisdom hanging in an archway, and swirling blobs that vaguely resembled birds and fish without actually being birds and fish.

    • yelena:

      @Rob Putting a rug on the wall isn’t at all in bad taste. Originally it was done for very practical reasons (i.e. soundproofing). But it also added a nice focal point to the otherwise bland decor. Having large framed pictures or paintings on the walls was not common. So without a carpet walls looked depressingly bare. Plus whenever I was sick and would stay in bed, I spent hours looking at the patterns and tracing them and imagining all these exotic flowers, birds, and fish. It was way more interesting than watching Channel 1 or Channel 2 on our old black and white TV

  7. Minority:

    > as it being полированное (polished, glassy surface).
    I feel like I live in a european appartment! We don’t have any polished wood furniture. And no carpets on the wall..

    About carpets… They have one more purpose: to keep wall warm during the winter, especially when you live in a very old house.

    > In Russia, there are special fitted sheets that wrap not around the mattress, but around the blanket/quilt/comforter — my roommates and I referred to them as “quilt Pampers” (after the American brand of disposable diapers with elasticized legs).
    It is called пододеяльник [blanket cover]. And I’m surprised you don’t use the same thing. o_0 It’s really convenient ’cause it’s easier to wash cover than the whole blanket. And, again, during the winter covered blanket brings you much more warmth. =)

    PS. I just noticed that Russian Blog doesn’t send emails about new comments anymore. Why? =(

    • yelena:

      @Minority Lol, we had it all when I was little – polished wall unit, a carpet, wallpaper 🙂 What’s really curious to me is to see how this Soviet style affected the way many Russians in the US decorate their houses. For example, all the furniture is bought in гарнитуры (sets) – dining, living room, bedroom sets. Matchy-matchy 🙂

      As for the comments… I think what happened is this – some time ago we had to change the blog to the very basic template and turn off all the plugins that allow added functionality (such as comment notification). The IT folks are slowly restoring the plugins.

  8. Ann Chapin:

    OH I am so jealous! I do have some of that sort of furniture though, but no Russian language skills!!! My dad taught Russian for awhile back in the 50s…I sure wish I knew it. I can learn it here?