THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO VICTORIAN INTERIORS
Whether you own a stately Victorian mansion or just love a lavish touch, Victorian style panders to our inner romantic, courting us with grand wood furniture, dipsy floral patterns, and Rococo era flourishes. Named for Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 to 1901, the Victorian era coincided with the Industrial Revolution and its subsequent financial boom. Eager to put their burgeoning wealth on display, newly minted haut monde opted for lushly decorated interiors that made room for everything but moderation. To learn more about the must-have elements of the Victorian home, along with ingenious ways to thread the style throughout a contemporary space, read on!
THE ANATOMY OF VICTORIAN STYLE
In an attempt to make their homes appear as luxurious as possible, Victorians filled rooms to the brim, piling in ornate Victorian furniture and covering virtually every surface in pattern, color, or texture. To bring the Victorian psyche into focus, a bare room was considered to be in poor taste.
On the receiving end of the most lavish treatment were walls and windows. Wallpaper, which was capable of being mass produced for the first time ever thanks to the Industrial Revolution, was coveted, and was used in virtually every room. Laying cheek-to-cheek with the wallpaper were floor-to-ceiling drapes that also featured busy patterns—the Victorians were nothing if not fearless with their style choices! Among the day’s most favored patterns were damasks, heavy florals, and chintzes. Colors trended towards soft, haven-like tones such as mauve, sage, and buttercream, with burgundy and goldenrod rounding out the darker side of the palette. If you tend to associate the Victorian era with darker colors, there’s good reason for it—poor lighting made colors appear darker than they really were.
Victorian furniture has the reputation of being flowery and ornate, and to be fair, the majority of it is, showcasing deeply carved wood (walnut, oak, and mahogany were among the most-loved finishes) and decorative iron work. But plenty of pieces—especially those that originated near the end of the era—opted out of the excessive scrollwork to adopt a more geometric aesthetic. Early Victorian furniture is often categorized as Gothic Revival or Rococo Revival. As their names imply, these pieces of Victorian furniture emulate the extravagant handiwork of the Gothic and Rococo periods. Design details like spires, buttresses, and deep, recessed carvings are common on pieces like Gothic Revival beds, as are motifs like fleur-de-lis and quatrefoils. Later Victorian furniture styles include Eastlake and Anglo Japanese styles, which are noticeably less showy, and are recognized by some as laying the preliminary groundwork for modernism.
As for Victorian accessories, when you consider that the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree from head-to-toe originated in the Victorian area, their approach to accessories becomes crystal: indulge yourself. Victorian accessories include keepsake boxes, tabletop mirrors, books, and even curiosities like birdcages and rocking horses. While a more refined style like Art Deco would preach refinedness, Victorian style welcomes any trinket, big or small. To keep Victorian accessories from collapsing into clutter; however, pick pieces with a sense of romanticism. Look for figural pieces cast in bronze, or delicately etched porcelain.
Unless you call a painted lady home, Victorian style can feel a bit exclusionary. Yet a Victorian chest or Victorian bed can be just the unexpected touch a modern bedroom or living room needs. To learn how to modernize Victorian style we’ll walk you through three Victorian trends we’re currently crushing on.
Swap Out Pattern for Solid Color
Victorian sofas and chairs feature lovely silhouettes, but they often take a backseat to busy fabric. To prep a Victorian chair or sofa for modern styling, try upholstering it in an achromatic fabric (think biscuit or ecru). The neutral fabric will make wood framework the star of the show, and will set it up for easy mixing and matching with modern furniture. The same goes for wood pieces, such as an oak Victorian dresser or a mahogany Victorian desk. Try painting either in a satiny smooth coat of black or gray to make it feel instantly modern. Lastly, and especially if you have a number of Victorian furniture pieces you can’t bear to part with, go with a bold, solid color on the walls (like lacquered turquoise), which will jolt Victorian furniture out of its safe zone and allow you to add in more modern pieces with remarkable ease.
Layer up on rugs
The Victorians were renowned for their unflinching take on pattern, as they dressed not only their furniture, but walls, curtains, and floors in it. In Victorian homes, it was also common to find Victorian rugs layered on top of one another. While we don’t recommend doubling up on two Oriental rugs, necessarily, we do think the concept can be well applied to rugs in two different mediums. Layer a wool rug on top of a natural fiber rug for a look that speaks to the excess of the Victorian era without delving into theme territory.
In reaction to the over-the-top Rococo and Gothic revivals that the Victorian era spawned, the Eastlake style was developed. While Eastlake furniture is still ornate, it is noticeably more geometric than its predecessors. With its distinctive appearance (that plays somewhere between Victorian, Art Noveau, and Black Forest), Eastlake furniture is easy to factor into a contemporary home. Refashion an Eastlake dresser as a bathroom vanity or use one as a kitchen credenza. With its dark wood and geometric presence, it will look seamless with contemporary hallmarks like white subway tile and carrara marble.