Back To CourseInterior Design Basics & Principles
10 chapters | 149 lessons
Laureen holds a master’s degree in Educational Technology and a bachelor’s degree in Art History. She has a background in education, interior design and computer technology.
The Victorian essence is reflected in a somewhat busy environment designed to represent status, opulence, and romance. Victorian rooms were heavily decorated with rich furnishings, patterned wallpapers, colored tiles, pictorial tapestries, large houseplants, and chintz china. Interior surfaces were adorned with fleur-de-lys, medallions, arches, ovals, garlands and wreaths. Sentimental pictures and drawings of kittens, puppies, fairies, and flowers filled the nooks and crannies of the Victorian rooms. Victorian interiors were as much a reflection of beauty as they were a demonstration of good manners and social etiquette. These design practices were very intentional. Victorians were making a statement about society, culture and the rise of the middle class.
The Victorian era represents a broad period of time spanning the years between 1837 and 1901. The term comes from the period in history when Britain was under Queen Victoria's rule. The Queen was known for her luxurious taste which changed the world of interior design and architecture. Since she was Queen for a very long time, the eclectic and ornamental style went through several transitions. Variations of the style were popular during her lifetime and for several years after her death. Some terms associated with the period include, Eastlake, Gothic, Art Nouveau, Edwardian, Arts and Crafts, and Japonisme.
During the Victorian era, Britain was at its most powerful. The Industrial Revolution began in Britain and spread throughout Europe and the United States. The full effects of important technological developments were felt during the Victorian Era and changed daily life. The creation of the steam engine allowed for the construction of roads, canals, and railways. Travel led to more avenues for trade and influence from other cultures. A large emphasis was placed on consumerism, as affordable mass production allowed the middle class to enjoy comforts not previously available to them.
In the home, decoration was added to ceilings, floors, doorways, and window frames. Bare rooms were considered in poor taste. The decorative goal was to show abundance. Ornate designs covered walls, windows, and carpets. Elaborate gas lamp fixtures were added to newel posts. Chandeliers with cord covers and medallions adorned the ceilings. Etched and stained glass windows were prominently placed in entrances. Fancy wrought iron lined stairwells and framed doorways.
Decoration became a symbol of social class. Large overstuffed furniture was made of expensive, heavily carved woods and upholstered in rich velvets and damasks. The size and scale of chairs and settees was large. Tassels and tufting were plentiful.
The Victorian Era was very moralistic. Much emphasis was placed on social refinement, decorum and etiquette. Many tastemakers of the period took this opportunity to write books on home management and decoration. Recommendations included proper placement of decorative items and organization of rooms to reflect social expectations. In the home, regard was placed on separation between children, adults, servants, guests and genders.
One distinctive feature of Victorian interior design is the separation of space. Victorian homes had as many rooms as possible and each room had a specific purpose. Public and private areas of the home were clearly designated and decorated accordingly. There were rules regarding rooms, what could be in them as well as who could frequent them and when. For example, a parlor was a very important room during this time and even modest homes had one, whenever possible. Guests would commonly congregate in this small space which was usually in the front of the home and decorated grandly in comparison to utilitarian spaces. The parlor was intended to be very formal, promote proper behaviors, and show a family's wealth.
Servants and children were relegated to specific utilitarian rooms carefully designed for rest, relaxation, cooking and cleaning. Male and female adults also had separate and shared quarters. These separations were designed to represent power and limit contact between men and women. For example, after a meal, women would retire for tea in a brightly decorated drawing room, while men would be found in a masculine smoking room discussing business and politics.
Recycling items through the house was common. Worn items from the public rooms would be replaced and then reused in the bedroom, children's rooms, and servant's quarters before being discarded.
Culturally, Victorian rooms were about status, economics, and perfectionism. It was a common idea of the times that your home represented cultural values, and home management was expected to represent social norms. Although it may have been difficult for some families to uphold these ideals, it was an understood theme of the period. People felt obligated to decorate their homes in reflection of the social expectations.
The bedroom could be pared down to elements necessary for sleeping, cleaning, and fresh air. However, halls, parlors, dining rooms, and libraries were symbolic rooms and image was critical. In wealthier homes, plush doorway curtains, known as portieres, hung from entrances. Stairwells and doorways would have intricate fretwork medallions and panels. A myriad of patterns, wall hangings, gilded mirrors, and decorated frames lined the walls. The small spaces left in a room were filled with peacock feathers, tea sets, card receivers, and souvenirs. Even bookbinding became an art and books were gilded and embossed to decorate the library. Portraits with embellished frames were common. However, portraits were only placed in the public rooms if the subject was a respected adult, the artist was notable, and the work was eloquent. Otherwise, portraits were hung in simpler frames throughout the private rooms in the home.
Marble and tile became popular during the Victorian Era as disease transmission became better understood. Prominent marble mantel pieces displayed bric-a-brac, keepsakes, and flowers. If afforded, encaustic tile was used in the home. Colorful tile allowed for intricate geometric and detailed floral patterns and became a significant design feature in Victorian interiors.
Oriental carpet designs with polished wood or parquet borders were preferred in rooms frequented by guests. Other floor treatments such as oil cloths, linoleum, and paint were also common and easily kept clean.
The favored wall style was divided into three sections. A decorative frieze would fall at the top just under the ceiling. A picture rail and a chair rail would separate out the center section where portraits, chromolithographs, and mirrors would be hung from cords. Under the chair rail would be the remainder of the wall, known as the dado.
The mass production of wall paper encouraged Victorians to create affordable, yet lush, wall surfaces. The frieze could be bordered with wallpaper or stenciled. The mid-section would have larger designs such as medallions, acanthus leaves, animals, or florals. Finally, the dado would have its own distinctive look and be covered in wood paneling, faux marble, or an embossed wall covering. Doors, trim, and cornices could be varnished for ease of cleaning but were oftentimes painted or wood grained first.
At a glance, the Victorian style, with its large drapes, plaster busts, pampas grass, kerosene lamps, needlepoint, fretwork and portieres, may appear nostalgic and idealized. These were days of prosperity where time could be spent on the proper etiquette and social norms. However, there is a much deeper meaning to the design trends of the Victorian era. Victorian decoration tells a story of people living in a time of domestic revolution, technological change,
and scientific discovery. It was a time of new ideas that converged to pave the way for the rise of the middle class.
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Back To CourseInterior Design Basics & Principles
10 chapters | 149 lessons
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