Thanks to Bridgerton, Regency Decor Is on the Ascent
After Shonda Rhimes’s Bridgerton made its buzzy Netflix debut last December, millions lusted after the enigmatic Duke of Hastings. For design-minded viewers, however, the opulent Regency architecture and furnishings were just as easy on the eyes. According to antiques dealers, auction specialists, museum curators, and more, the period’s aesthetics have left a lasting impression on a new wave of consumers—demand for Regency-period furniture and collectibles has never been higher.
“When somebody gets exposed to great objects, they realize how great they are, and it creates a desire for them. This also happened with Downton Abbey,” Bill Rau of M.S. Rau, the longstanding New Orleans–based antique store, tells AD PRO. “All of a sudden not one person is asking about Regency works per week, but 10 or 20.”
“The Regency is loud, glamorous, colorful, and much less stuffy than its immediate predecessors, the Baroque and Rococo,” says Wolf Burchard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s associate curator in the department of European sculpture and decorative arts. While Bridgerton fans may recognize several paintings at the Met (including a Velázquez, Benoist, Reynolds and Wright of Derby, all of which made altered appearances in the show), period-appropriate decorative-art pieces can be found in the renovated British Galleries that Burchard helped bring to life last year. “Regency fashion, interior design, and architecture revisit the clean lines of Ancient Greece and Egypt, and the Regency’s color palette is much more vibrant and daring than the soft grays and blues of early Georgian Britain.… This is why the Regency lends itself so well to period dramas—particularly the ones that have a contemporary twist.”
Beyond their privileging of ancient Grecian, Roman, and Egyptian aesthetics (largely stemming from archaeological discoveries), Regency furnishings are characterized by brass inlays, gilding, exotic timbers, and chinoiserie touches, adds Amelia Walker, Christie’s London head of the private and iconic collections department. The auction house reports that its January and March decorative arts sales saw a marked level of interest from Hong Kong and America. In the “Apter-Fredericks: 75 Years of Important English Furniture” sale, for example, a Regency gilt-brass-mounted Indian rosewood secretaire cabinet and a parcel-gilt and cream-painted daybed were among several lots that more than quadrupled their estimates.
Bidders will have more opportunities to purchase Regency pieces through Christie’s as soon as April 15 in The Collection of Mrs. Henry Ford II: Eaton Square and Turville Grange auction, as well as in The Collector: Online from April 29–May 20 and The Collector: Live on May 19. Although it does not date to the Regency, the sumptuous, peacock-blue-and-yellow color scheme of an early 18th-century Italian Baroque bed in the May 19 sale is pure Featherington.
As for why and how people are acquiring Regency pieces nowadays, Rau explains there’s a generational difference: “In the days of my parents and grandparents, people collected 18th-century English only and didn’t mix things. Thankfully those days are gone.” In Rau’s opinion, gilded epergnes (his store is currently offering a bronze and cranberry glass one) and marble or bronze busts are among the timeless, statement-making pieces that would be at home in any modern space. M.S. Rau also offers Regency items perfect for the entertainer, including a sarcophagus-shaped mahogany cellarette that accommodates six bottles of wine, silver trays crafted for King George III, and silver-gilt grape shears to vanquish pesky stems.
AD100 interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer calls Regency decor “Old World while still being livable.” The Texas-based talent’s favorite details include gilded lion-paw feet, marble obelisks, and Grecian bas reliefs: “Today in this crazy world, I think clients are looking for authentic and beautiful interiors that reference back to a quieter time.” Nussbaumer recently converted a Dallas warehouse into an airy private residence brimming with 18th- and 19th-century antiques and soft blue hues fit for a contemporary Bridgerton.
But for as much as this idyllic, romantic vision of Regency England inspires contemporary designers, so does the era’s flamboyancy and quirks. One London-based company known for its whimsical wallpapers and fabrics recently debuted the Regency-inspired Portobello Parade collection, which cofounder Jamie Watkins tells AD PRO was conceived prior to Bridgerton’s premiere. “We first got the idea after seeing some crazy archive photos of London with people walking their exotic pets,” says Watkins, an avid antiques collector who grew up in Bath, where much of the show was filmed. “[We] love to add a cheeky twist on design, so it does echo the aesthetics of how Bridgerton turned the period drama on its head and delivered something totally unexpected.”
It’s this playfulness and romance (in every sense of the word) that has Bridgerton viewers hooked. With the show allegedly planned to run for eight seasons, admirers better “make haste” and stock up on Regency pieces now before prices undoubtedly skyrocket.