Queen Victoria was the Queen of England from 1837-1901. Talk about a reign. Talk about a life. She had the longest rule in the history of the monarchy, and she even took on the title of Empress of India toward the second half of her rule. Queen Victoria was so influential that the length of her rule has come to be known as the Victorian Era.
Back in the Victorian Era, of course, there were no televisions, tablets or smartphones to keep people entertained, even if they were wealthy royalty. Instead, their source of entertainment was to host private parties, galas and concerts in their palaces. Therefore, the Queen’s home became a showpiece for her visitors to appreciate with awe. To this day, part of the allure of royalty is its proximity to the finer things in life. A chair is much more than a chair. Window treatments are window adornments. No half measures. Understated isn’t in the playbook.
The outside of Victorian homes have a few common characteristics. Most of these homes are larger, typically two or three stories with a wood or stone exterior with a complicated shape coming from wings and bays in various directions. Look for elaborate, decorative trim made from wood or metal and textured walls such as patterned masonry, half-timbering and scalloped shingles.
A steep, multi-faceted room was common early in the era, but gave way to flat-top roofs with windows to make the most of the space inside the house. Another way they maximized space was a large, wraparound porch with ornate spindles and brackets. The more wealthy homeowners had a tower with a steep, vertically pointing roof. The colors were earthy such as mustard yellow or burnt sienna.
Victorian materials take on something of a seasonal rotation. During the winter, you’re looking at velvet and damask. Cotton would be more prominent in the warm summer months. The Victorian Era was when wallpaper became a big deal. Wallpaper is still common with today’s Victorian-inspired designs.
Heaving, sturdy, dark woods form the base for much of the furniture, while wood, wicker, fabric and leather are also hallmarks of the period. While this aesthetic can appear dainty at first glance, please note that comfort and quality are still a standard for Victorian homes.
Victorian Furniture were heirlooms passed down through generations. You didn’t throw it out or have a yard sale. So of course it had to be solid and well made. Though Victorian’s popularity came along with the rise of the middle class, and mass production came about later in the era, furniture was still a commodity to be cherished. Chairs, cupboards, dressers and beds all lived a long life, often longer than the people who used them. Consider top-grain leather sofas in a rich cognac color for a furniture piece. Look for rounded arms, exposed wooden feet and nail head trim. You might see tufting for a classic patterned back and detail. Add a traditional sofa, ottoman or coffee table to finish off the look. Upholstered furniture is another staple of the style, featuring spring construction, luxurious fabric and padding.
Banquet Lamps were the prominent choice for dining rooms in the 1890s, because they gave people enough illumination during dinner hours and looked elegant and rich as a showpiece for the home during the daylight hours. Outside the dining area, small table lamps with lined shades were used as bedside lighting during this era. Of course, big brass chandeliers were featured in wealthier homes. In general, the rooms guests would see — the dining room, hallways and living room — featured the more ornamental lighting. More practical lighting could be found in the other spaces. Keep in mind, this was still the relative infancy of electric lights. Victorian homes still had plenty of candles, plus oil and gas lamps.
Some people think of Victorian interiors as dark and ornate, featuring rich deep colors, but many would be surprised to find that the most popular colors during the era were in fact pastels. Many of the colors in today’s palette were unavailable before the chemical process of dying was more advanced. Cream tones were used as a base color because true white was still not available. Cream remains a staple of Victorian style today. Think color combinations, composed with complexity. The Victorian color palette is varied and draws most of its inspiration from nature. You could go pale to dark and earthy and still fit under the Victorian label.
While you might think of the more grand scope when contemplating the Victorian style, little touches like accessories can help you achieve the look. In the bathroom, look at vanity trays for your perfume and cosmetics, along with matching soaps. And you can’t go wrong with a lace shower curtain.
Of course, you could also make a huge Victorian statement with curtains. Cover your windows in rich fabrics and lace, valances trimmed in beaded fringe and tassels. You can even insert a lace curtain behind your other treatments for a privacy shade that allows the sun to shine through.
With Victorian accessories such as light switches and magazine racks, you can honor the era in little ways all over the home.
Today, Victorian Style can be replicated with intricate details, plush upholstery, solid brass handles and more. Thankfully, resources such as Bellacor offer furniture, accessories and decor at the level of quality and craftsmanship displayed in the original works.
You can also perform a little DIY on the pieces you already have. For the bedroom, consider rustic wood that looks well aged. Distress the bed frames, nightstands, chest and dressers to add character. Just because it’s not an antique doesn’t mean it can’t look like one – for much less money. Or re-upholster your Victorian chair with a more modern fabric to mix and match eras.
Even your office can have a Victorian element. It all starts with the writing desk, displaying carved detail and pewter finish. Your chair is just as important and should match the desk well with carvings and cabriole arms.
Gallery walls came to be in the Victorian Era to show off an owner’s wealth. They often included a mirror and hand-made paintings from the era. Today, your wall might include these things, but you can sprinkle in photographs, something unavailable during Victorian times. Gallery walls often appear to be a rich mosaic from a distance. But look closer for little bits of personality. Map out an outline prior to make sure the pieces fit together, and make sure you achieve visual balance by putting the images in context before committing to them on the wall. You might also consider setting a theme for your gallery.
Give a Victorian chair a fresh look with reupholstery. Mix and match rich fabrics and textures, all the while maintaining the quality craftsmanship and intricate detail of the furniture’s structure. These pieces were built to last, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enhanced with a chevron pattern or new leather upholstery. With a few simple touches, you can take a piece from drab and shabby to cheery and chic.
Nothing says Victorian like a crystal chandelier. Inspired by the grandeur of the 19th century, these ornate chandeliers feature multiple strands of glass beads or crystals. They often feature glass or fabric lamp shades with lavish scrolls and curves. But today’s chandeliers can offer a bit more than they did back in Victorian times. You can add a dimmer for ambiance, or even add LED bulbs. The chandelier used to be an extravagant expense, but with less expensive, modern materials it’s not unheard of to hang one of these chandeliers in any room of the home.
Because of advances in printing technology, today’s wallpaper offers more color options, textures and patterns than during the Victorian Era. You may also find wallpaper easier to place on your walls and easier to remove. That can allow you more versatility than Victorian Era people had. For modern homes, choose a design to suit your room’s dimensions. The bigger the room, the bigger the pattern. For smaller rooms, vice versa. William Morris was one of the most prominent Victorian influences on wallpaper, and his elaborate designs were typically found in the most visited areas of the home. Because wallpaper is more accessible these days, you can put his designs anywhere you see fit, and guests don’t even have to see it. It can be just for you.
To rule for more than 60 years, you have to learn to adapt a little bit. Queen Victoria’s palace didn’t always look the same. That rule applies to the style named after her. Take a look at these royal descendants.
A combination of Victorian and Edwardian Styles, this one also incorporates facets of modern life, including technology.
What would the Victorian Era look like if the future had happened sooner? That’s a question Steampunk attempts to answer. The style places modern elements in the same context as Victorian or quasi-Victorian pieces. It’s purposely anachronistic. If you’ve even seen the movie “Wild Wild West” that gives you a good example of Steampunk, only less violent.