Damp, draughty, cramped and often noisy - have you ever lived in a Victorian house or converted flat? But with features such as bay or sash windows, high ceilings, stained glass front doors and pretty brickwork they are often beautiful to look at and full of character inside. Walking down the streets of our towns and cities today it’s hard to not find a Victorian building. They’re everywhere! A population boom during this time led to a house-building boom and today they are some of the most desirable properties on the market.
Queen Victoria oversaw one of the most rapid periods of change mankind has ever experienced. During her 64 year reign she saw the introduction of electric lighting, central heating, mass production and labour-saving devices for the home. She was on the throne from 1837-1901, and yet how different the homes of 1901 would have been from those of the generation which grew up in 1837. Watching the last episode of the recent period drama ‘Victoria’ made me wonder what life was really like back then, away from the romanticised filter of a camera lens. How did they decorate their homes? And can we learn something from them now?
As the Victorian era spanned over six decades and the country underwent so much change, the influences and design trends for home interiors also changed and evolved throughout this time. These categories below will help to build a picture of what the Victorian home looked like inside:
1) Eclectic mix of styles
1) Eclectic mix of styles
The Victorian era did not have a simple defined style. Rather it combined many influences into an eclectic mix and moved through different styles as trends came and went.
Gothic Revival (1830-1900): This was one of the most influential styles in the 19th Century. Renewed interest in Medieval chivalry and an emphasis on romantic and courtly ideals had the knock on effect of a revival of designs and patterns found in the Middle Ages, as well as Gothic design.
Oriental (1850-1900): Travel was a major reason this style became so popular. World trade opened up to exotic countries such as Japan and China and this had an increasing impact on British design. India was a key colony of the British Empire and especially significant in Victorian times as much was made there for the British market.
Classical & Renaissance Revival (1850-1915): Archeological discoveries from Egypt, Greece & Italy fuelled the imagination of designers. The Elgin Marbles had been brought to the UK from the Parthenon in Athens in 1812 and Greek and Roman sculptures of Classical figures were much admired. Mythology and figures from Classical history provided the inspiration for artists and designers.
The upper classes flaunted their wealth in their homes. Rich fabrics, ornate decorations, imagery of European fairy tales, lace, glass, china, multi-layered window dressings, busts, statues, framed paintings or prints, flowers and all manner of accessories were liberally added to every room. This was to show off all the luxuries that the family could afford and create a sense of opulence.
However, the industrial revolution brought about a shift from traditional handmade products to mechanised processes producing items on a large scale. Mass production of furniture and household items meant that the middle classes could afford to furnish their homes in the latest styles. They poured over catalogues and emulated the wealthy either by buying a cheaper version, or by painting something to create a similar effect. This is why paint effects and trompe l’oiel (‘fool-the-eye’) wall papers were so popular.
There was no such thing as restraint, the more the better. The effect could be one of acute clutter, or a complex, warm and romantic room.
Unlike today, there was no universal colour card for people to choose from, rather, paints were mixed locally and using the colour pigments available. Moreover, your choice of colour would also depend upon if you lived in the countryside or within a very urban environment. Those living in the cities preferred colours such as grey, deep green and grey blue to reduce the appearance of grime and soot from coal dust and stains from gas and oil lamps.
In general, however, the Victorians had a very sophisticated colour palette and one which is often used today. In the first half of the era light walls were favoured, with the exception of dining rooms and libraries, which were richer in colour. The second half saw the emergence of vibrant, earthy colours and those that brought warmth to a room, such as walnut and mahogany brown, plum, aubergine, olive and sage greens, red and rust colours, burgundy, mustard yellows and dusty pink.
Complex patterns filled most areas of the Victorian home. Multiple wallpapers covered walls and ceilings, plush fabrics trimmed with silk tassels and embroideries as well as intricately woven Oriental and Persian rugs. Victorians loved pattern and used it liberally throughout their homes.
Wallpaper in particular was in high demand. It had gone into mass production in the 1840s and soon became more affordable. Popular styles had backgrounds of red, blue and green with prints of large floral, bird and animal motifs as well as damasks.
William Morris was a well known designer during this time and his designs dominated most wall papers and fabrics in the home. He was renowned for mixing strong, pure colours harmoniously, and giving a flat pattern a narrative quality.
What do you think about Victorian decorating? Will you be adding some of these design features to your home? The bricks and mortar on the outside of a Victorian home may be old, but the decorating ideas of the time can be updated to create a modern interior that still pays homage to its rich past. I’d love to see how you've incorporated this style into your own house.
beautiful foundations claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog (beautiful-foundations.com) are copyright to their respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and you do not wish for it to appear on this site, please contact me with details of which image you refer to and it will be promptly removed. Any image on this site is here because it is thought to be beautiful.