Energy Efficient Winter Decorating Victorian Style
What the Victorians Can Teach Us about Saving Energy with Style
This page focuses on the common-sense ways that Victorian interior decorating took advantage of natural phenomenon to increase comfort -- and to do so beautifully and in keeping with the Victorian aesthetic.
Many of us view Victorian homes through modern eyes and neglect to live in them with the awareness of natural elements that the people of that era had. We look at many aspects of the Victorian home as purely decorative but ignore the practicality of many Victorian interior design and home decorating elements.
This page will introduce you to a few of the most effective energy conserving Victorian interior decorating preferences that were practical as well as decorative. All of these complement the environmentally aware design and construction of period 19th century homes and are easily adaptable for use today. In fact, if you use draft dodgers, for example, you are already using some decorative items that were popularized by the Victorians.
See Optimizing Energy Efficiency in Victorian Houses for a more architecturally based look at maximizing energy savings in old houses.
Keeping Warm in The 1800s
Heating during most of the 19th century was primarily from fireplaces and stoves that used either coal or wood. The best of these were designed to allow air intake that radiated more heat into a room and to minimize smoke.
Dampers regulated the escape of hot air and ornate cast iron grillwork in front of the fireplace opening (see photo on right) not only kept sparks at bay but held and radiated heat from the burning embers into the room.
Old houses were purposely designed with smaller spaces and features like pocket doors between rooms to limit the space to be heated and to retain that heat within the space. In addition to shuttered windows and draperies that could be opened to allow the warmth of sunlight to enter and closed against the cold and winds, draperies were commonly added to doorways in Victorian homes tor more options in regulating air flow and comfort levels.
We have found through our own experience that just by opening and closing pocket doors and draperies we can keep our house warmer at a much lower cost than before we learned (through trial and error) how to manipulate these features to take advantage of the inherent energy saving and heat retention (and alternately, heat dispension) qualities they were designed to provide.
Enter the Portiére - Victorian Floor Length Doorway Draperies
The above photo shows a variety of Victorian portiéres.
From Left to right:
(1) A William Morris burgundy Sunflower printed velvet with a golden buff tassel fringe trimmed self valance backed by a
(2) gothic manuscript print topped with a silk gold and burgundy striped (attached) valance with coordinating embellished fringe. The burgundy velvet faces the main foyer. The second side faces a Victorian Gothic library/study.
Next (3) is a single panel of Scalamandre trompe l'oeil printed velvet in a green stripe. This fabric is printed to look like fringed drapery and we just love the whimsical nature of this. The panel is topped with a valence of the swags section of the same fabric that is shaped to follow the design;
Finally (4) is a scrumptious cut silk velvet parlour portire in a deep rich green topped with a vintage European needlepoint valance with gold metal fringe that originally was most likely used on a church altar.
The Victorians loved fabric and draperies embellished pianos, mantels and tables for purely decorative reasons but they also used draperies for very practical considerations. One of these included hanging double sided draperies in doorways. Portiéres, as these were referred to, blocked drafts and kept heated rooms warmer.
The use of portiéres dates back to the middle ages. They were used in drafty castles to keep the heat from the fireplace in a room. American Colonial and early American homes had rooms that were smaller and had doors, so portiéres were seldom needed. With the high ceilings and larger rooms favored by the Victorians, as well as their love of all things gothic and penchant for decorative elements and luxurious fabrics, portiéres regained popularity.
How to Hang Portiéres
for Energy Efficient Victorian Home Décor
Portiéres were an important part of Victorian and even early Arts & Crafts home décor for aesthetic as well as functional energy-saving reasons. Portiéres were hung on brass or wooden rods set inside the door frame or on brackets attached to the frame or next to the frame on the wall.
Drapery panels were attached with rings or looped metal chains that could be slid to open and close the panels or they might be hung in a stationary fashion and opened or closed by pulling the drapery to one side and securing it with a tieback.
Portiéres were made of heavy fabrics, with velvet being the most frequently used. Heavier damasks, tapestries, epingles and needlepoints were also popular.
Each side of the double sided panels would be made of a different fabric to complement the décor of the room or area the panel was facing. This way one rod could be used to hang one set of draperies that would give a different effect on each side. If a room had more than one doorway, each would be hung with a portiére in different fabrics. Coordinated mixing of fabrics and patterns, not matching, was the fashion in Victorian interior decorating.
Colors and Other Options
By the late 1800s, maroon with buff, crimson or olive were favored combinations for portiére panels. Deep greens (think Scarlet O'Hara's dress) and dark browns were also popular color choices. Flannel linings were sometimes added between the two faces for additional warmth. Appliques, embroidery, tassels, fringe and trims provided additional decorative interest.
Occasionally, in larger, wealthier households, more elaborate portiéres, as shown in the accompanying photo, would be hung on both sides of a door (usually on either side of the large sliding pocket doors between the parlour and dining rooms.)
I like to think of portiéres as Victorian storm doors and they are, in my experience, even more effective and far more attractive.
By closing shutters and draperies on the cold side of the house and opening them in the morning on the warm side of the house you can capture the warmth of the sun's rays and prevent radiant heat loss through the colder side. (The reverse works to keep a house cooler and comfortable in warmer weather.)
Portiéres were generally taken down for the warmer months or replaced with purely decorative lighter panels in silk or open work macrame with beads, but for now we are concerned only with the use of functional portiéres.
Other options for functional portiéres included Turkish (Oriental) carpets and reversible ingrain carpets. The advantage to these types of hangings is that they were heavy, came pretty much ready-to-hang as-is and, in the case of ingrain carpets, had two faces (or "right" sides) and did not require backing as they were double or triple layered by nature of the weaving process used to create them.
Learn More about Victorian Drapery
The ultimate reference book for the use of Draperies, lavishly illustrated.
Shutters and Window Treatments
More than Just Decorative
Older homes commonly had interior or exterior shutters. Due to relatively cheap heating during most of the 20th century, shutters were often removed. (Ironically, as functioning shutters were removed, purely decorative representations of shutters -- often sized improperly for the windows they flanked -- came into use.)
Recent research, however, has confirmed what previous generations knew was true. Window shutters are highly effective in reducing heat loss. Specifically, wood shutters were found to decrease heat loss from a window by 50 to 60% -- even more than double glazed replacement windows!
In addition to interior and exterior wood shutters, Victorians were fond of wooden Venetian blinds and multiple layers of window draperies. These extravagant and luxurious window treatments also went a long way toward making rooms cozy by blocking the cold air and keeping the warm air inside.
Wood Shutters Decrease Heat Loss 50-60%
They are more Energy Efficient
than double glazed
By manipulating the layers and opening and closing them according to the location of the sun and direction of the wind, you can increase (or decrease) the temperature of your home's interior. Combined with the effective use of double hung windows and transoms this is a practical, natural way to increase the comfort level and decrease the energy used in your home.
Just drawing the curtains at night can save an additional 15% of heat loss through windows. Add a single layer of drawn draperies over closed shutters and you've got up to a 75% reduction in heat loss!
Save up to 75% of Heat Loss through Windows
by drawing draperies over
closed shutters after dark
Shop for Shades, Shutters and Draperies to Save Energy and $$$
Wood Blinds bring warmth and natural beauty to complement any decor. These are the classic choice to offer an elegant and stylish look. Made from real bass wood, these blinds give you high quality at affordable prices. Available in several colors and different sizes. PLUS shipping is Free!
More Victorian Style Help with Door and Window Drafts
The Victorians also used "Draft Excluders" to improve the energy efficiency of double hung windows. They would make these out of remnants (often left over from portieres or drapery panels) sewn into a sausage shape and stuffed with sawdust, beans or gravel.
These were placed across the bottom ledge of windows and, in the case of double hung windows, also across the middle where the top and bottom sections met. If a doorway lacked a portiere a draft excluder would be used to block any draft seeping under a closed door.
During the late 1800s, Draft Excluders were usually made from heavy maroon red fabric. Today, we know these as Draft Stoppers or Draft Dodgers and they come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, and designs. Prices vary widely but they are very easy to make on your own if you want to give it a try.
Lighting for Warmth
Another way to create a feeling of warmth to your home is to create more intimate lighting. Do not underestimate the warmth that can be created by the golden glow of light from a fireplace, candles, oil lamps and even using reproductions of antique (pre-1920) lightbulbs will add a warm ambience and a cozy feeling to your home.
Many of us don't realize that not all areas had access to piped gas in the Victorian era and candlelight was used for most activities in the majority of households throughout the period. Although the actual heat generated may not raise a room's temperature as measured by a thermometer, it does raise our perception of heat. That is, we actually feel warmer in the presence of certain types of lighting.
The Warm Ambience of Old Fashioned Lighting
Kerosene/Oil Lamps Create a Cozier Space. Other styles and colors are available.
Cold feet? The Bare (Floor) Facts
Wood floors are gorgeous and intricately inlaid wood floors are a particularly prized feature in some Victorian period homes. However, they are not very helpful when you want to keep warm in the wintertime. Victorians realized this and they layered area rugs on their floors in the colder months.
Area rugs helped keep rooms (and toes) warm and created a warmer looking space, which psychologists and other scientists have now proven can actually make us feel as if the temperature is 5 to 10 degrees warmer than it actually is!
The warmth and comfort provided by soft durable area rugs can be a considerable addition to your overall comfort level and the energy efficiency of your home.
For the summer months or in warmer climates, the wool rugs would be cleaned and stored away and the floors would be either left bare or covered with lightweight rugs woven of natural plant materials.
Heat Between the Sheets (G-rated)
Bed Warmers, Foot Warmers, and Hot Water Bottles
Stay warm and save energy without electric heaters and blankets by taking a few cues from our 19th century predecessors. Stoneware pottery foot warmers or hot water bottles (carefully) filled with boiling hot water from a kettle on the stove were used for warmth indoors as well as for sleigh rides in the snow.
Take a hot water bottle to bed and create a thermal envelope that will keep you comfy until morning. When you awaken, you can use the now tepid water in the bottle to water plants.
Copper or brass bed warmers filled with hot coals from the fireplace and run between bedsheets will also create a toasty warm cocoon to retreat to at bedtime.
It won't take the place of a partner to snuggle up with, but it will make it cozy for one and possibly even cozier for two."
Learn More About Victorian Energy Saving Savvy
and how you can maintain and maximize the energy saving features inherent in the design & construction of Victorian houses.
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© 2012 Chazz