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Victorian Home Styles and Interiors (19th Century America)

Updated on April 21, 2018
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Ancient art and architecture isn't only for historians, but for people like us who’ve always been interested in anything olden and periodic.

Victorian home styles evolved from the promising seeds that sprouted during the Greek revival period which suddenly seemed to shrivel up and dry out. To 19th century America, England once again became the source of America’s inspiration, and the return to the classy French styles became something that was favoured by the people of the era.

There were really no great leaders in the American arts, and the voices of the creative few that tried to cultivate their own artistic expressions were more or less ignored. Though novelty was still desirable, connoisseurship was absent and home styles and interiors became more of borrowed ideas than conceived inventions.

The American Victorian art period underwent a rapid succession of overlapping and confused style revivals. First, the Greek revival period overlapped a revival of the Gothic style as was inspired by the British Houses of Parliament building.

These were relayed through books written by Eastlake (architect and furniture designer) and William Morris (textile and wallpaper designer), including A.W.N. Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc, both well-known Gothic style enthusiasts.

During the Victorian era, industrialization brought many advances in the wide varieties of architectural home styles, with each style possessing its own distinctive form and features.

These architectural designs include Queen Anne, Stick, Second Empire, Shingle, and Richardsonian Romanesque.

Architectural Styles of Victorian Homes

The building façades had no proportionate classical forms and had large unbalanced bay windows and cupolas. The vast manicured lawns had hydrangeas with cast iron menacing figures of dogs and stags.

The arts were absurd in a sense. There were wooden arches, vaults, and windows with pointed tips, columns that tended to form clusters, stained glass panes, and jigsaw ornamentation.

An influence on the American arts was that of a man of extraordinary genius, an architect, H. H. Richardson. He brought back the Romanesque forms as a "revolt" against the revival arts of the Gothic period and Mansart's style. He designed the Trinity Church in Boston.

His influence was strong and his picturesque and romantic styles of expression in his works were imitated by many designers whose works were made of wood fashioned after his own stone works. His architectural designs had corner towers, balconies, irregularly shaped windows and high gabled roofs with shingles installed in distinctive patterns.

Features of Historic Victorian Homes

Houses of the Victorian Era had steep mansard roofs with dormer window openings breaking through the surfaces of the sloping roofs. On the downside, the Victorian cities were crowded with homes characterized by brownstone fronts and high stoops that were devoid of any aesthetic appeal.

Characteristic features of historic Victorian homes of the 19th century include:

  • Asymmetrical exterior
  • Steeply pitched roofs of irregular shape
  • Textured shingles
  • Dormer windows
  • Dominant front-facing gable
  • Corner towers
  • Asymmetrical porches extended along one or both side walls

19th Century Victorian Home
19th Century Victorian Home | Source

Interiors of Victorian Homes

The Victorian era is famous for its interpretation and eclectic revival of varying historic designs mixed with the Middle East and Asian features, influences that were obvious in its furniture styles, fittings designs, and interior design and decoration.

Unlike their exterior designs, Victorian interiors were opulent in many ways, though their interior layouts consisted of irregularly shaped rooms that were generally planned without much thought. They included a plethora of lathe-turned balusters, wooden grilles, table legs, and spindles.

The important rooms of the house had painted wainscots, parquet flooring, ceilings with false beams, heavy trims and huge mouldings usually made from golden oak wood.

Furniture and interior décor objects were designed with "naïve" Gothic features showing religious, sentimental and even depressing themes. These styles are typical of the Gothic art period and logically suited church designs and religious forms more than they did residential buildings.

Features of Victorian Home Interiors

The interiors of Victorian homes are noted for heavy ornamentation and excessive use of unrelated textures and patterns. Rooms were separated according to functions (public and private spaces were separated), with the parlour being the most important of all interior spaces. The dining room was the second-most important room in historic Victorian homes.

Characteristic features of historic Victorian interiors include:

  • Wallpaper with garish patterns
  • Oriental rugs covered in animal skin (bear, lion or tiger)
  • Fireplaces with marble slab mantels and arched openings
  • Mantle facings with brightly coloured tiles or bricks
  • Ornately decorated furniture and a hybrid of furnishings
  • Window coverings made of layers of thick heavy textiles, valances, swags and tails, and heavily fringed jabots.
  • Colours are rich, dark jewel tones like deep reds, blues, emerald greens, purple, and gold hues.
  • Rugs and tapestries
  • Damask and velvet fabrics
  • Ornate mouldings and carvings
  • Stained glass
  • Arched lancet windows
  • Wrought-iron chandeliers, sconces, and candlelight lamps
  • Oversized and overstuffed sofas and large cosy chairs

During the Victorian period, an unadorned room was considered to be in poor taste, so every surface was filled with objects that reflected the home owner's lifestyle and aspirations.

A typical Victorian home interior with deep lush colours, a clash of patterns, ornate wood furniture, and heavy window treatments.
A typical Victorian home interior with deep lush colours, a clash of patterns, ornate wood furniture, and heavy window treatments.

Victorian Homes versus Modern Homes

19th and early 20th century Victorian home styles and interiors are the complete opposite of today’s modern homes. Unlike the design and décor of today, theirs was a time of heavy, ornate, oversized furniture and furnishings, with a penchant for oddments.

Modern homes are almost minimalist with clean lines and at most times light furniture and furnishings with a lighter backdrop while Victorian homes were warm, overcrowded, complex, and dramatic, with a large dose of excessive opulence with oversized furniture and interior furnishings.

While modern homes have open-plan bright airy rooms, the Victorian home did not. Rather, there was excessive use of dark woods (mahogany and walnut) used for wall panelling and wood flooring.

The heavier, lavish, and richer a Victorian-era home interior is, the better. That is a central element of the Victorian style.

© 2011 artsofthetimes


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    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      A fascinating hub about this period. voted up!

    • annmackiemiller profile image


      7 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      very interesting. voted up and stuff

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Wow, this is interesting. I did not realize that the Victorian times were so garish and showy. Thanks for a great hub. Very informative!


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