Saturday, February 9, 2008

Style Guide: Victorian

The Victorian style of 19th century England and America revived elements of several styles, including classical Greek, Romanesque, Tudor, Gothic, Elizabethan, Italianate, Egyptian and Oriental. Eclectic rooms are dark and cluttered with such hallmark features as boldly patterned and colored wallpaper, Oriental rugs, ornate fringe and tassel trimming on luxurious curtains, artistic arrangements of knickknacks, stained-glass windows and solid, bulging furniture with deep-buttoned upholstery.


Artistic arrangements of knick-knacks, objets d'art and collections are a hallmark of Victorian style.

Collections include scent bottles, samplers, family photographs in silver frames, wooden toys, Oriental fans and 19th-century kitchen implements such as spice graters, fruit slicers and apple corers.

Modern Variations

  • Create a grouping on a decoupage screen, box or tray with images cut from magazines, books, old prints or wallpaper, covered with a layer of varnish.

Other Victorian Touches

  • Brass and china door knobs
  • Gilt-framed, Old Masters landscape paintings
  • Stained-glass windows
  • Wooden or brass clocks (mass produced since the mid-1800s)
  • French-plated glass over mantel mirrors
  • Sculptured busts, bronze or alabaster statues
  • Elaborate silver settings, silk embroidered Oriental screens, scimitars (curved, single-edged Oriental swords) and potted ferns and palms


Vibrant Colors
Strong, vibrant colors in uncommon, arresting combinations characterize the Victorian style.

In sitting rooms, dining rooms and studies, intense shades of crimson, claret, bottle green, sharp yellow, purple, mahogany, terra cotta and Persian blue are favored.

In bedrooms, colors are lighter, but no less dramatic when mixed together: pink, gray, pale blue and soft green.


In living rooms and dining rooms, hardwood floors and a central carpet dominated. Wood, usually pine, was often darkly stained and polished, though occasionally bleached.

Later in the century, parquet came in style, covering wooden sub-floors with designs ranging from geometric to floral.

In kitchens, plain quarry tiles or stone flags appealed to the period's newly developed interest in cleanliness. Linoleum, introduced in 1860, was often found in bathrooms, hallways and pantries. Popular colors were plain brown or green.
Photo courtesy of Burrows & Company.

Floral, swag, festooned and geometric designs, all big and bold, were showcased in carpets. Preferred were Oriental, Persian, Rococo-designed or needlework rugs.

Economical substitutes existed, such as floorcloth, parquet, tiling or canvas sheeting printed to simulate rug patterns.

Straw, coconut or cloth matting replaced rugs, which were taken up in summer. Decorative encaustic tile, laid in geometric patterns covered hall floors. Staircases were dressed up with runner carpets secured by brass stair rods.


Victorian era fabrics, lavish to touch and behold, are truly a "luxurious" style. Velvet, satin, silk damask, wool, chintz and chenille were used for draperies and upholstery.

Elaborate designs of Gothic, classical, Middle Eastern and Oriental origins enhance the visual richness.

Floral patterns are the most common, especially roses and dahlias intertwined with ribbons or accented with birds. Cottons with complete scenes of children, animals or landscapes also are popular. The era's improvements in printing and dyeing made such designs readily accessible.

Trimmings are just as ornate: deep fringes, large tassels and ropes for window treatments and portières (room-dividing curtains), plus embroidered and laced-edged pillows or cushions.


Solid and Large
Victorian homes overflowed with furniture of various styles including Rococo, Near and Far Eastern, Gothic, olde English and "fat classical," a neoclassical form with carved ornamentations.

In general, pieces were solid and bulging, made of mahogany, walnut, rosewood or satinwood. The invention of the coil spring in the 1820s made upholstered furniture commonplace, especially styles with curving shapes and deep buttons. Fluted and cabriole legs commonly supported such pieces.

Scrollwork on chair and sofa rails featured carvings of flowers, leaves, vines, acorns and grapes.

New forms included the classic caf� chair, created after Austrian Michael Thonet refined the bending of beech wood. Ornate brass-and-iron bedsteads were introduced to Britons at the Great Exhibition in 1851.

Cozy Corners
Settees often were found below stairs and on landings in the Victorian home's combined living and stair hall. Cushioned extravagantly, they provided domestic respite from the industrialized world.

Modern Variations

  • For a more elaborate Victorian touch, construct below stairs a charming stylistic specialty, a "cozy corner," an intimate arrangement of built-in seats. Or situate cozy corners next to a fireplace or in room corner.

Free-standing pieces, open shelving and marble-topped pastry tables defined the 19th-century kitchen.

Bathrooms featured wooden washstand with bowl and pitcher and tin bath before the advent of indoor bathrooms in 1870. With indoor plumbing, large, colorfully decorated basins and enameled tubs on ball-and-claw or scroll feet came on the scene.

Victorian Period Pieces

  • Marble-topped tables and chests
  • Armoires – prior to the invention of constructed closets in Victorian homes
  • Renaissance-like bed pediment with arched cresting and carved cartouche
  • The meridienne – a short sofa from the Empire period with arms of unequal height connected by a back with sloping top
  • Balloon-back chairs
  • Corner cupboards
  • Rectangular dining tables with rounded legs
  • Small writing desks
  • Piano
  • Long case clock
  • Ornate coat, hat and umbrella stands

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