Friday, February 8, 2008

Style Guide: Baroque

The Baroque style is theatrical and extravagant. Decorative elements are intended to startle, electrify – and flaunt wealth. This was also true for the European courts and aristocracy that embraced the 18th century style. Furniture is massive and opulent, textiles are luxurious and expensive, colors are royally rich and glittery, accessories are exotic and sparkling, floors are dramatic. The style was most magnificently showcased at France's Louis XIV's palace at Versailles.



  • Displays of coins, medals, manuscripts, shells and precious stones were a 17th century craze.

Accent Pieces

  • Classical busts and andirons in the fireplace
  • Chinoiserie and other items of Far Eastern orientation, such as lacquered boxes or porcelain
  • Blue-and-white Delftware vases and ginger jars
  • Silver teapots, plates and urns for requisite glitter

Modern Variations

  • Hang pictures and mirrors with gilded frames so they lean forward for a low reflection of light.


Flamboyant and Intense
Gold was the quintessential color of Baroque style.

Modern Variations

  • Use gold generously as gilding in fabric threads, on ornaments and on walls.
  • Mix other intense colors in combinations that might shock. Choose among deep red, indigo, dark green, raspberry, ochre yellow, purple, strong blue and umber.



  • On lower levels of Baroque houses, stone flags, bricks or tiles combine in two or more colors to create an illusion of different depths.
  • On the upper levels, wooden floors are of oak, pine or fir.
  • Floors are sometimes painted with geometric patterns like those of a contemporary parterre garden, known as broderie.


  • Dramatic patterns dominate floor treatments.
  • The very wealthy experimented with a host of geometric patterns of black-and-white marble, including squares, diamonds and cubes.
  • Wooden floors often combine several kinds of woods with different colors for elaborate designs.


  • Rush matting is preferred in less formal rooms.
  • Woven carpets are placed under furniture because carpets considered too expensive to walk on.

Modern Variations

  • Recreate the look by installing linoleum tiles with marbled, brick or stone finishes



  • Newly introduced Indian cotton was reproduced in block-printed patterns of stripes, checks and flowers.
  • The wealthy hung wall tapestries of velvet, silk damask and leather, stamped, tooled or gilded.
  • Wall coverings, table linens and cushion covers were coordinated in fabric and design – tasseled and embroidered with silver and gold threads.

Bold patterns and rich textures abound for sumptuous opulence.

Bedroom Treatments
Grandiose bed hangings and window treatments define the style.

Modern Variations

  • Capture Baroque wall-hanging luxury by using intricate crewel work with floral or arabesque designs made from twisted wool on a linen base.
  • Choose fabrics with big patterns, especially exotic chinoiserie designs of dragons, entwined trees, birds and butterflies.
  • Replicate coordinated wall coverings, table linens and cushion covers.
  • Festoon curtains with a plain rectangular pelmet or a wavy-edged pelmet with tasseled trim or braided ruffle.
  • Dress up bed areas with suspended hangings all around, including fringed or tasseled trim.
  • Use same pattern in washable linen to upholster headboards and cover dressing tables.



  • Oversized and ornately carved, painted, gilded and inlaid wood with precious materials such as silver, ivory, mother of pearl and ebony
  • Intention to impress, possibly startle


  • Knole sofa – high-cushioned arms that were raised and lowered to form a daybed
  • Oak cupboards – paneled and ornamented
  • Buffets – set into arched niches in dining rooms and displaying silver and glass
  • Bookcases – with open shelving, standard in libraries
  • Lacquered cabinets – often set on gilded or silver stands

Modern Variations

  • For purists with deep pockets, buy throne-like chairs and marble-topped tables, both with legs shaped as cherubs, mermaids, titans, dolphins or eagles.
  • Construct built-in furniture.
  • For limited budgets, achieve the look with one or two distinctive items and several plainer pieces.
  • Find wing chairs or chairs with low, wide seats, high backs and scrolled arms of polished oak or walnut; upholster with heavy, striking fabric in Baroque fashion.


Candles and Lanterns

  • Candles and lanterns chief source of day-to-day lighting for rich and poor
  • Candle stands – wood, brass, or pewter
  • Lanterns when moving through halls or on stairs
  • Typical staircase lantern suspended from an iron branch hinged from the landing – lantern pulled across and lit from the staircase
  • Branch lights – brass with central globe enhancing light from candles resting in serpentine arms

Wall sconces made of silver or brass with metal or mirror back contrive to reflect light.

Carved or gilded wood, rock-crystal, silver or brass epitomize Baroque opulence.

Modern Variations

  • Recreate Baroque grandeur and richness with shiny and reflective light fittings.
  • If Baroque-styled chandeliers are used for lighting instead of decoration, hang low to get the most light from burning candles


Wood Paneling

  • Theatrical splendor characteristic of Baroque style is captured in grand style of walls.
  • Social events in the late 17th and early 18th centuries were played out against paneled walls.
  • Wood paneling, or wainscot, was divided into different shapes and units, such as small squares or larger rectangles.
  • Classical proportions in wood paneling, had clearly defined dado and simple cornice.
  • Panels often painted with geometric patterns.
  • Wood sometimes painted to upgrade its look: pine to resemble oak, oak to mimic walnut and other woods to look like marble or tortoise shell.
  • Extravagance was showcased with elaborate carvings of floral motifs or figures.

Wall Hangings
Gilded leather tapestries and other painted fabric hangings were fashionable.

Modern Variations

  • Attach moldings to a plaster wall, paint with a faux finish or wallpaper to create appearance of wainscot or marble.
  • Paint designs of curlicue, flowers, heraldry or classical architecture with iridescent colors on a dark background.
  • Display colorful and unusual tapestries or fabric hangings in separate panels or across an entire wall.
  • Add fringe to wall hangings for exotic touch.

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