The 4 Basics of Victorian Interior Design and Home Décor
An Introduction to Victorian Style Interior Design
This page provides an introduction to Victorian interior design and home decorating. This easy-to-follow guide is organized into the four essential design basics of Victorian interior décor: Color, Pattern, Opulence and, of course, Romance -- the quintessential hallmark of the Victorian era.
Learn how to incorporate these four principles of Victorian décor with ease and confidence to create the room or entire home of your dreams.
You'll also find some specially selected resources to help you achieve a historically sensitive Victorian interior decorating style that suits your home's architecture as well as your own lifestyle and taste preferences.
The Classic Book on Victorian Decor
Originally published in 1868, this is the decorating Bible for the post-civil war Victorian era. Get the same interior decorating advice savvy Victorians relied on.
What is Victorian Style?
Victorian stye is a broad term that generally is used to refer to characteristics of design (architectural, fashion, home décor, etc.) from the latter period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 1837 until her death in 1901.
This style draws inspiration from nature, geometry, theory, and many other resources. It also encompasses a wide range of sub-styles including
- Eastlake, named after Charles Eastlake
- Aesthetic or Anglo-Japanese, reflecting the influence of Japanese design
- Gothic Revival, which harkens back to a romanticized notion of the Medieval era
- Renaissance Revival, inspired by c. 15th century Florence and the palazzi of such wealthy families as the Medici
- Greek Revival (Neo-classical), takes the symmetrical forms and columns of ancient Greek temples as its inspiration
- Egyptian Revival features the imagery of ancient Egypt
- "Exotica" includes other styles based on Turkish and Persian design
The Four Design Basics of Victorian Home Decor
The Victorian Color Palette
The Victorian Home Decorating palette was actually quite sophisticated, with a particular emphasis on tertiary colors.
Tertiary colors are those created by mixing equal amounts of primary and secondary colors. (See Choosing and Using Color in Your Home for more details.)
The dark colors that are usually associated with Victorian décor are more the result of poor lighting than of color choice.
Early Victorian homes featured lighter colored walls with richer colors in the dining room and library. Later Victorians turned to deeper tones, which were used to emphasize the importance of a room. In more urban areas, colors like gray, darker green, and a grayer blue were often chosen to minimize the effect of grime and soot from coal dust and stains from gas and oil lamps.
Victorian colors are warm and subdued, and included soft colors on gray or cream backgrounds, deep rich walnut and mahogany browns, black, and shades of teal, plum, aubergine, mustardy yellows and golds, burgundy, rust, blue, green (think sage and olive, not mint and kelly) and "dusty" hues like "ashes of roses" and a subdued shade of lavender.
The colors chosen by individual homeowners also reflected the organic pigments that were available and what their local merchant had in stock. The brighter shades of white we have today, for example, were not available as a paint color in the 1800s and were not seen in any home then or prior to that era.
Please note that many paint companies, such as Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore, offer "Victorian" paint colors, but they are not necessarily historically accurate. If that is your goal, it is best to not rely on those products alone for information. Whether you decide to choose historically accurate colors or use a combination of old and new hues, consider the limited technologies and pigments as well as the Victorian lifestyle when selecting your color scheme.
Victorian Home Decorating Fabrics to Inspire Your Color Palette
Complex patterns covered every surface of the Victorian home. From multiple wallpapers that covered walls and ceilings to luxurious fabrics trimmed with silk tassels and embroideries as well as intricately woven Oriental and Persian rugs, Victorians loved pattern and used it lavishly throughout their homes.
Although it may look excessive to the modern eye (as it did to some toward the end of the 1800s), Victorian style is nonetheless a very comfortable decorating style, with plush fabrics for layered window treatments and upholstered furniture, elaborately designed rugs, and a warm and welcoming ambience that is cozy and romantic.
Favorite patterns ranged from flora and fauna to geometric designs, stripes, damasks, and intricate combinations of those.
Depending on the tastes and talents of the residents, results ranged from a mish-mash bordering on horrendous or a skillfully created, balanced and pleasing environment.
A Typical Victorian Interior
More Victorian Style Wallcoverings
Excessive can often be considered synonymous with Victorian. The upper class flaunted their wealth and those who aspired to their status found ways to mimic it.
If one could not afford fine woods to panel walls and marble fireplaces for "public" rooms like the dining room and parlor, less expensive materials would be painted to imitate them.
Mass production helped make "the look" available to the middle class via heavy textured wallcoverings like lincrusta and anaglypta and trompe l'oeil ("fool-the-eye") wallpapers.
Furniture and accessories were elaborate and ranged from delicate to massive. Extravagantly ornate decorations, china, lace, stained glass, flowers, knick-knacks, busts, souvenirs, framed paintings or prints, multi-layered window treatments, richly patterned fabrics, and accessories galore were used liberally throughout the house. Restraint was not part of Victorian interior decorating. The results varied, as one can imagine, from a cluttered and stiffling space to, in the hands of the more skillful, a refined, sophisticated, complex, and warmly romantic room.
The custom of elaborately decorated Christmas trees was popularized in the United States by the Victorians and epitomizes the exhuberant Victorian love of opulence. This illlustration is in the Public Domain*.
Shop for Authentic Victorian Antiques
Add a unique Victorian touch to your home décor with period antique furnishings and decorative accents.
From original Victorian furniture and lighting (electrified or not) to the perfect accessories for your desk, mantel, or dresser, many period Victorian antiques are still available and affordable.
In addition to eBay, you may also want to check the shops on Bonanza for more great items and prices.
Romanticism is perhaps the strongest reason for the persistent popularity of Victorian décor. Victorian style evokes now, as it did then, the imagery of European fairy tales with its turrets and gargoyles.
Lush layers of luxurious fabrics begging to be touched, sensuously carved furnishings, and exotic trimmings added to the seductive appeal belied by Victorian mores and rules of etiquette.
Simply put, Victorian décor without the romance is simply fussiness and clutter.
Victorian InteriorsClick thumbnail to view full-size
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