Decorating “Victorian Style”
By Johanne Yakula
The Victorian era, named after Queen Victoria was officially in existence from 1837 – 1901. As might be expected, several styles of decorating went in and out of popularity during this period. The era is somewhat divided in three – early Victorian (Georgian simplicity), Mid Victorian (known for heavier masculine looks), and late Victorian (feminine influence on interior décor). Most of the interior décor magazines and industry articles seen today feature late Victorian décor.
Late Victorian décor with its resultant excesses (according to its critics), was in direct proportion to the new wealth seen throughout the British Empire – much of it acquired by exporting products to the colonies. The Industrial Revolution made mass produced articles affordable to almost everyone and a new wealthier middle class was born.
In order to decorate “in the Victorian Style”, one must think like a Victorian. Those “in the know” preached that bareness in a room was considered in poor taste, thus every available surface was filled with objects that reflected who the homeowners aspired to be. The Parlor was the most important room in the home, for it provided a showcase of the homeowners attributes:
Wealth , This was evidenced by the opulent fabrics and exotic wood furniture seen in the “best rooms” – the parlor and dining room. Expensive porcelains, sterling silver, china and crystal on the family sideboard, beautiful wall coverings, paintings on the walls, and oriental rugs over parquet hardwood floors created this image.
Interest in the new sciences such as Botany and Taxidermy. Plants were seen everywhere. Ferns and palms were especially favored for sunrooms as were exotic, never before seen varieties of blooming plants such as orchids. Stuffed animals under glass were on exhibit in the library or the den.)
Sentimentality and Love of Family Photo albums and paintings of own family members were on prominent display, and commemorative souvenirs of the Royal Family often stood alongside. Prints of little children and their pets were popular.
Love of Learning & Collecting Books and libraries, or at least bookcases were de rigeur in good homes. Collections of any type were encouraged .
Travel and interest in exotic cultures ( Maps and exotic decorative gadgets made of wild animal hides and body parts could be seen next to carefully selected objects of foreign origins such as Japanese screens, tapestries from Belgium or Venice, and Egyptian artifacts.
Comfort with the Technology of the Time Early electric lights, and indoor plumbing were two of the areas where a person’s “embrace” of the future was indicated.
“Accomplishments by Women” Idle hands were not to be tolerated and a woman’s responsibility was to her family. Her value as an individual was determined by her accomplishments: how well she could embroider, do beadwork, make lace, sing, play a musical instrument or paint.
By understanding what societies valued, coupled with information about what was available at that time in terms of products and technology, it is much easier to create the ambiance associated with a particular style. Include decorative as well as functional items in each area represented above. For authenticity’s sake, avoid any “cute” items that are currently being promoted as “Victorian.” Let your knowledge and instinct guide you and you will find it easy to decorate “in the Victorian Style”.
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