Of the many interior styles the world has created, the Victorian style evolved as a tribute to the age of its namesake, Queen Victoria of England. The Victorian interior exemplified and displayed to the world, the variety of choices in every facet of interior finish that were being produced via technological inventions on a vast scale in Britain. The selections were so plentiful they somewhat overwhelm the senses with the range of materials that were used to create these mass produced decorative items. Although the quality of craftsmanship was questionable, the sheer choice of items and the amount of them couldn’t be underestimated.
The overall look of the Victorian interior was one of richness and ornate representation. This was presented with bold colours that included greens, reds, gold and offset with soft cream. The colour palette was to appear jewel-like. Furniture, fabrics, lighting and all materials were used to create this effect. This approach to design, in all its grandeur belied a coy domesticity that was all at once shy and demure while also being provocative and flagrant. As the Victorian persona was full of social protocols, this required individuals to act in accordance with them. The overt and expressive nature of decoration was in direct contrast to this demeanour.
Furniture was made in dark woods of mahogany, walnut, rosewood and teak with elaborate details in carved feet and frames. Surfaces were articulated with ornamentation including acanthus, poppies and snowdrop motifs. The inlay work was extensive and the furniture styles were a combination from various periods. These pieces were often large in scale and meant to house a plethora of household and personal items. Upholstery tended to be overstuffed and included velvet, brocade, damask and other substantially weighty fabrics. For summer, lighter fabrics such as cottons, muslins and chintz were used to great affect for curtains. Their richness was shown through highly patterned prints.
With the bustling manufacturing that was ever-present during the Victorian era, there was such availability and affordability of manufactured household goods that creating a Victorian interior was a witness to one’s prosperity and ease of affordability. However, this mass production came at a price which largely showed how craftsmanship was compromised; particularly with respect to furniture. The hand-crafted furniture produced by gifted and skilled artisans of earlier periods had all but been replaced by the technology that was the hallmark of the Industrial Revolution. This resulted in rather crude creations that while more durable in terms of their structure, lacked elegance and craftsmanship. Skirts on furniture were devised to cover legs and footings that were improperly positioned on furniture, while veneers were used to cover scratches made in manufacturing while flaws in joinery were covered with ornaments.
There were many materials used in the design of a Victorian room. As shown in the illustration on the left, there is red speckled fabric used as wallpaper with generous red and gold draperies together with large tassled tie-backs on the side windows. A central stained glassed window that has an intricate pattern in various colours. There are windows with muntin bars and potted plans on their sills.
The ceiling has substantial crown mouldings and cornices in plaster, along with marble-like pillars with gold-leaf capitals and curvy base and pedestal. A large walnut console table in the centre with an abundance of curves on the sides, base and legs, is very ornate. The music box, book, and planter shown on the top of the table, take up most of the area. The wood floor is relatively plain but the two gold/bronze deer that flank the table add extra effect to the floor area. The central hanging light fixture is shapely and has crystal conical shapes. This is an example of how in such a relatively small area, there is a great deal of decorative elements to the space.
The idea that ‘enough was never enough’ aptly described the true Victorian interior. If another table, mirror, picture, lamp, rug or decorative item could be placed in a vacant part of a room – it was accommodated. The number and presentation of items was limitless and was never considered ostentatious. Every possible picture of display of figurines, vases, statues, lamps, doilies, pictures, mirrors and other items were flamboyantly displayed in rampant multiplicity. There was not a corner, niche, hallway or wall space however small that wasn’t lavishly decorated with as many ornaments and furniture as possible – which often meant hardly any space left for the intended use of the area.
As practicality is not a word related to Victorian design, the substantial and rather overuse of décor made the spaces difficult to clean and maintain. In some cases rooms were designed with a view to displaying as many items as possible instead of considering functionality and the ability to use the area in an effective way. As seen in many rooms – refer to the Illustration at the top of this article – the bear rug would be difficult to manoeuvre around as would the various sculptured pieces on the floor, dusting would be a challenge and maintaining the wood burning fireplace.
The Victorian era has long been seen as a romantic time with robust but feminine ornamentation that made it seem part of a glorious past. However, upon closer review, there were many aspects to this type of design that made everyday living in those surroundings less than amorous.