Gothic Interior Design

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Gothic cathedrals are inspirational and magnificent - but would you want to live there? In this lesson, we'll talk about the Gothic style of interior design and see what characteristics define it.

Gothic Interior Design

If I were to invite you over to a party at a Gothic-style house, what might you be expecting? Something like a Halloween party, with torches lighting the stone walls? Chains dangling from the ceiling? A moat?

Actually, the Gothic style of interior design is one that's often misunderstood. Far from suggesting a spooky and colorless space, this style is defined by light and ornate decorations, yet it can also have a serious or somber tone. This makes the Gothic style of interior design one that is dramatic, exciting, and all-around fit for a king.

Gothic versus Victorian Gothic Architecture

Understanding Gothic design first requires an understanding of what this style is, and what it isn't. The term Gothic is generally applied to medieval churches starting in the 12th century. Gothic cathedrals were massive in size and scale, supported by architectural techniques that had been lost after the fall of Rome. For centuries before this churches were smaller buildings with dark interiors, so by contrast, Gothic churches were celebrations of light and divine grandeur. Identifiable through features such as stained glass windows, pointed arches, and ornate decorations on every surface, Gothic architecture is breathtaking.

The Gothic cathedral of Notre Dame gives us an idea of the desired aesthetic
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There's just one problem. The Gothic style was used for massive churches, not private homes. So, how do you design a house to look like a church? When we talk about Gothic interior design, we're not actually talking about the medieval period. We're talking about the Victorian era of the 19th century, when designers revitalized Gothic motifs and created the Neo-Gothic style of architecture. Neo-Gothic buildings were meant to embrace the motifs and basic style of Gothic grandeur, but in secular and private buildings. That's where Gothic interior design was developed, as part of an eclectic revival of Victorian-era Europe.

Themes

Gothic interior design, like the Neo-Gothic movement, is not about creating an adequate space to worship and reflect on the might of God. That's what Gothic churches were for. Instead, the design style is about emulating the basic feel of Gothic architecture with respects to modern tastes and comfort.

There are a few basic themes that designers use to do this. The most important is the use of ornate decorations. Gothic structures were highly detailed, featuring carvings and patterns across every surface. Moldings featuring Gothic pointed arches, roses, and spirals can bring a sense of drama and refinement around windows and doors. Furniture should feature carved legs or backs. Austere simplicity is not what we're going to find in these spaces.

Gothic interior
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Another important thing you'll see is an interior that has a vaguely church-like feel. This is encouraged by emphasizing the openness of interior spaces through strong vertical motifs and lots of natural light. Of course, the best effects will come through natural light filtered by stained glass. Stained glass windows were a very popular part of Gothic churches, and became one of the easiest ways to emulate these structures in a private residence.

The last major motif we'll look for in a Gothic interior is color. Now, medieval churches were made mainly of stone, so color was not a major issue. People of the Victorian era, however, liked color and found ways to use it in this style. Look for dark but vibrant colors, including purples, blacks, browns, greens, and deep reds that dominate the color scheme of the room. These colors tend to be darker, encouraging the drama and seriousness of the room, but also rich and deep, giving it that sense of grandeur. Some of this can come through the use of certain materials like polished wood or stone, which also help to create that cathedral-like atmosphere.

Gothic interior in a 19th-century Prussian palace
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