A natural progression
The Victorian style arose quite naturally in western society. The industrial revolution allowed people to create wealth, and they wanted to spend it on themselves and their homes.
Advances in science and technology not only powered the increase in wealth, but provided the end products as well.
One of the greatest benefits of industrialization was the reduction in the price of furniture and household goods.
More people wanted new products for their homes, and more of them were able to afford to. Which is probably why the Victorian style is often noted for being ‘over the top’ in character.
Victorians didn’t just have some drapes at the window; they added net or lace drapes, blinds, and stuck fringes on everything in sight!
It was almost as if their attitude was, ‘If we can have it, we might as well use it”. While today we might use a more restrained style, the Victorian style depended on packing in as much as possible.
To achieve an authentic Victorian style, you may need to make yourself include more furnishings than you think necessary.
Using the past
And if you really want an example of a style which fed on others, then this style is the one to look at.
They mixed every conceivable fashion, threw in an oriental influence, added a dash of Egyptian or Gothic, and sat back with confidence and satisfaction.
As with all styles, things changed over time. In its early years the Victorian style was light and airy, but by the turn of the century it was often dark and somber.
The Victorians also had more variety in their decorating. For a start, they tended to keep each room for a particular purpose. The library was for reading, the study for writing letters, and so on. These rooms were seen by visitors, and were therefore decorated with a view to impress.
Victorian society was also more male dominated, and the downstairs room were heavy and masculine in their taste. The upstairs room were usually lighter and more feminine.
They followed the Georgian style when it came to dividing walls, keeping to the three sections. They particularly liked deep base boards (skirting boards).
One of the biggest changes for the Victorian house was the mass production of wallpaper.
Flock papers were a favorite, especially red. They also liked depicting botanical themes. Their wood of choice was mahogany, and if they couldn’t afford it they stained cheaper wood so as to achieve a mahogany effect.
Although the use of carpet was more widespread, they didn’t use it wall to wall. Instead they often bordered a rectangular section leaving the floor visible as a surround. They liked their hardwood floors, and made use of oriental rugs.
If there is one thing the Victorians liked it was their soft furnishings. Upholstery used lots of stuffing - cotton wadding, horsehair, even straw - and was fully sprung. They used deep buttons, especially on the backs of chairs and couches. This was not simply a fashion; the buttons were used to keep the stuffing and horsehair in place and prevent it from sagging.
Curtains were lush, with lots of fabric. Thick wood poles were fashionable, as were heavy swags, cascades (tails), inner curtains, lace curtains and shades (blinds) of all descriptions.
Fire surrounds didn’t escape, either, and were often as heavily draped as the windows. Interior doors were decorated with curtains, often using a portiere rod - the curtain was made to sit on the floor to stop draughts, and the portiere rod lifted as the door was opened, lifting the curtain off the floor.
The Victorian era was one of travel, and if you weren’t fortunate enough to have traveled yourself and brought back relics of your adventures, you could always buy prints depicting the latest discoveries from all over the world.
They loved to collect all sorts of items; a classic Victorian piece of furniture is a round table covered with a heavy cloth (trimmings everywhere!), with as many photos or sketches of family members as will fit on the top surface.
Furniture and plasterwork
Creating this style of room is one of the easiest period styles to emulate. You can still buy genuine Victorian bits and pieces at reasonable prices. If not, imitation furniture is readily available.
Architectural plaster features will always give you that traditional look. Buy reproductions of the period, such as ceiling roses, brackets for shelves, picture rails and chair rails.
Use an area rug on the floor of the room, leaving the wood as a border. You can stain the wood if necessary. A really genuine touch would be to use a runner on the stairs, held in place with brass stair rods.
Go completely mad with drapes! Put them on windows, doors, mantelpieces, tables, and as throws on couches. Then trim them with heavy tassels or bullion fringe.
The Victorians loved lace, so use that as well. An effective way is to make a circular table, cover it with a cloth (dark red or green is ideal) and then have a top cloth of lace, preferably with a lace trim. Or hang some lace at the window behind the main curtains. Have lace place mats on the table, or use it to make head rests and arm rests for chairs and couches.
As regards pictures, one wit remarked that if you can see a section of wall, then you don’t have enough pictures!
Hang them in the traditional way from the picture rail, as many as you can fit in. Have large ones, surrounded by groups of smaller ones. Dig out pictures of relatives (even if you can’t remember who they are) and frame them.
Collections are a must. Glass and ceramic figures, trays, shells, rings, boxes, natural objects, flower pressings .... you get the idea. This part alone could occupy all your time at antique sales or garage sales. The more you have of your chosen items, the better. Group them on a table, in a cabinet, or on a wall.
One of the greatest influences on the later Victorian style was the development of aniline dyes. These allowed much brighter colors to be used.
We tend to think of the colors they used as dark and gloomy, but they only appeared that way because they didn’t let much light into their rooms.
Our rooms today are more airy and light, and so we need to allow for this when selecting modern colors. As mentioned before, they usually used rich colors for the downstairs rooms, and lighter ones for upstairs such as bedrooms.
Take a look at our Victorian decorating page for more information about the Victorian way of life.
If you want to check that these Victorian colors will work for you, there's a product which may help. Take a look at this facility for paint colors.
The Shortcut to Perfect Paint Colors - Paint Color Cheat Sheets
(Only suitable for residents of the USA and Canada.)