Unveiling the Essence of Victorian Home Decor
A style inspired by one of the longest reigning monarchs in British history, Queen Victoria, Victorian decor and furniture is characterized by elegance and grandeur. A long era of peace, prosperity and empire expansion, the Victorian era brought about new aesthetics driven by growing wealth and worldly influences. The aesthetic takes cues from the interiors and furnishings of the time, embracing stately dark wood furniture, luxurious gilt embellishments, vibrant colors, a plethora of textures and globally-inspired accents.
Capturing the Distinct Victorian Look
Victorian Mahogany Tall Case Clock. Circa 1890. M.S. Rau.
A few key features of the distinctly Victorian interior design look include monumental and ornate furniture and grand adornments. Sometimes described as heavy or imposing, Victorian furniture often employs dark stained wood, intricately carved details, curving lines and velvet or embellished needlepoint upholstery fabric. This Victorian tall case clock, for example, is the perfect depiction of the period’s famous horology and ornate wooden artistry. Additionally, the Victorian look privileges a plethora of pattern and texture, with detailed floral wallpapers, intricately embroidered textiles, patterned wallpapers, tapestries and high-gloss finishes.
Interior view of the Whittemore House in Washington, D.C. The ornate decorations include a leopard rug, moose head above the fireplace and large amounts of foliage. Circa 1900. Source.
Victorian interiors are punctuated by elegant decorative objet d’art, stately chandeliers and grand pieces like large chiming clocks and pianos. The aesthetic utilizes a rich color palette and natural light to brighten grand spaces and retain a sense of airiness and ease.
Victorians took care to decorate the insides of their home, and Victorian architecture utilized many of the trends seen in the era’s furnishings. Traditional Victorian spaces feature high ceilings, large windows and architectural detailing in both the moldings and ceilings, as well as parquet flooring and stained glass windows. Here are just a few other aspects of Victorian architectural design:
Asymmetry: Many Victorian buildings feature asymmetrical designs, with irregular shapes and layouts that give a sense of dynamic movement.
Steep Roofs and Towers: Steeply pitched roofs with multiple gables, turrets and towers are common elements.
Diverse Materials: Victorian buildings often use a mix of materials, including brick, stone, wood and sometimes even cast iron.
Bay Windows: Many Victorian homes include bay windows, which project outward from the main facade.
Ornamental Porches: Elaborate porches with decorative railings, columns, and intricate woodwork are a hallmark of Victorian architecture. These porches often wrap around the front of the building, adding to the visual complexity.
The Allure of Victorian Decor
Victorian Crystal Chandelier. Circa 1900. M.S. Rau.
Much like this remarkable Victorian chandelier, as beautiful today as the day it was created, there are a myriad of modern influences drawing people to the Victorian style. As modern-day trends fade in and out of popularity, home decorators are looking toward more time-honored traditions to design the interiors of their homes. They may feel that the fashionable Victorian style is more timeless than the modern farmhouse or mid-century modern aesthetics that have been popular in recent decades.
Perhaps the trend toward modern Victorian decorating can also be attributed to the growing popularity of period dramas on film and television, such as Young Victoria or, more recently, the Bridgerton craze.
Victorian Parcel Gilt Vase by D & C Houle. Hallmarked London, 1868. M.S. Rau.
While shows like Bridgerton are set in the even more heavily embellished interiors of the earlier Regency period, the Victorian design style borrows from some of these elements while growing a bit more understated in some respects and also including more interesting, globally-inspired elements. This neoclassical gilt vase, for example, would have been a modern and coveted example of ancient glory. As toile patterns and chinoiserie motifs continue to become more ubiquitous today, and antique furniture and decor continue to rise in popularity, people working with both grand and modest spaces continue to gravitate toward these stylistic elements.
Decorating With Victorian Style: Practical Implementation
Victorian Piano Stools. Circa 1880. M.S. Rau.
When implementing Victorian-inspired decor at home, it is important to remember that you are designing a functional, modern space and not dressing the set of the latest period romance. Less is more, and it’s best to start with a few solid pieces of elegant furniture. Try sourcing a few authentic antique objects crafted from rich dark wood to give your space a timeless base.
Next, look for elegant and interesting focal point such as giltwood mirrors or inlaid side tables. Consider adding crown molding or a statement chandelier, and if you have large windows, think about dressing them up with a more elaborate window treatment such as brocaded drapes with cornices.
Next, fill the space with a plethora of textures and colors by adding jewel-toned throw pillows, ornate piano stools like those above, embellished wallpaper, items like porcelain vases and unique trinkets like antique bird cages. Because Victorian era decorations came from a time before mass produced decorative goods, any handcrafted good can evoke the grandeur of this bygone era. Lastly, add a touch of worldly flair and fill the space with mementos from your own travels abroad.
Portrait of Laurence Millet by John Singer Sargent. 1887. M.S. Rau.
If you live in a true Victorian home, be sure to honor the features of the estate and be on the lookout for details that may have been covered over time such as stained glass or unique moldings. If you live in a more modern structure, gallery walls are also a great way to display many different artwork from your various travels, artistic interests and family history. This enchanting portrait by John Singer Sargent of three-year-old Laurence Millet, son of Sargent's painter friend Frank Millet, showcases the private portraiture that made Sargent internationally renowned. Created to be displayed in a prominent part of the Millet's home, the portrayal's intimacy and modernity highlight Sargent's finest skills in portraiture.
If you live in a newly built home or even a small studio apartment, don’t be afraid to incorporate these elements into your space. The Victorian style in furniture
is sure to elevate every room, and Victorian jewelry can add an air of timeless grandeur to any ensemble.
Decorating with Victorian antiques adds a touch of historical richness to your living spaces. Whether you're looking to create a fully immersive Victorian-inspired environment or simply incorporate a few key pieces, here's a quick guide to help you get started:
- Choose a focal point. When decorating with antiques, it's important to choose one or two statement pieces to anchor the room. Once you have your focal point, you can build the rest of the room around it.
- Use a color scheme. Victorian interiors were often quite colorful, so don't be afraid to use bold colors in your decorating. You can also use metallics, such as gold and silver, to add a touch of opulence.
- Layer textures. Victorian interiors were often quite textured, with a variety of fabrics, woods and metals used throughout. Try mixing and matching different fabrics, such as velvet, silk and woods.
- Add some ornate details. Victorian interiors were known for their ornate details, such as carved furniture, gilded mirrors and chandeliers. These details can add a touch of luxury and sophistication to your space.
- Don't be afraid to mix and match. Victorian interiors were often eclectic, with a mix of different styles and periods. Don't be afraid to mix and match different antiques in your own home.