The 4 Basics of Victorian Interior Design and Home Decor
his 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 decor: Color, Pattern, Opulence and, of course, Romance -- the quintessential hallmark of the Victorian era.
Learn how to incorporate these four principles of Victorian decor with ease and confidence to create the room or entire home of your dreams.
Above: Portrait of Queen Victoria in 1843.
This image is in the Public Domain.*
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.
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ictorian stye is a broad term that generally is used to refer to characteristics of design (architectural, fashion, home decor, 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, Aesthetic or Anglo-Japanese, Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival, Greek Revival (Neo-classical), Egyptian Revival and "exotica" like Turkish and Persian design.
A Victorian Interior from 1886.
This image is in the public domain.*
The Classic Book on Victorian Decor
The picture above shows a basic Victorian color palette. However, since computer monitors do not accurately and consistently depict color, the photo should be considered an approximation.
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 decor are more the result of poor lighting than of color choice.
American Interiors, 1830-1900
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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
Choose from a wide variety of period reproduction and vintage fabrics and trims from printed floral chintzes and toiles to silk damasks and velvets. For Historically sensitive home decorating at budget sensitive below-wholesale prices, visit Restoration Fabrics and Trims for Selection, Savings and Service.
Complex patterns covered every surface of the Victorian home. From multiple wallpapers to luxurious fabrics and oriental rugs, Victorians loved pattern and used it lavishly throughout their home.
Although it may look excessive to the modern eye (as it did to some toward the end of the Victorian era), it 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.
Patterns ranged from flora and fauna to geometric patterns, stripes, damasks, and more. Depending on the tastes and talents of the residents, results could range from a mish-mash bordering on horrendous or a skillful, balanced, pleasing environment.
Photo shows a corner of an 1880 Victorian parlor with its plethora of patterns.
This illustration is in the Public Domain*
A Typical Victorian Interior
Above is a period photo of a Victorian interior. Note the numerous framed pictures on the wall and the decorative objects on every available surface. Scroll down to see our gallery of Victorian interiors. (Period images are in the public domain*)
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 decor with period antique furnishings and decorative accents.
Romanticism is perhaps the strongest reason for the persistant popularity of Victorian decor. 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. Whatever the style, Victorian decor without the romance is simply fussiness and clutter.
More Victorian Style Wallcoverings
We love the Victorian Style Designer Wallpapers available from Graham and Brown.
Shown above are just two of the many patterns and colors available.
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Last updated on August 16, 2014
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