Victorian Interior Design History

Instructor: Laureen Pittet

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.

Victorians had a lavish and extraordinary style. Step back in time and learn about how society and industry merged to create opulent and romantic trends in interior design.

Decorating in a Refined Society

Fernand Thesmar: Enamel Plaque
Enamel Plaque

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.

Queen Victoria

Neuschwanstein Castle: Drawing Room
Victorian Drawing Room

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.

The Industrial Revolution

William Morris: Honeysuckle Fabric
William Morris Fabric

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.

Divisions and Recycling

SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse: Smoking Room
Smoking Room

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.

Materials for Healthier Living

Dublin Christ Church: Encaustic Floor Tiles
Encaustic Tile

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