What is Victorian Interior Design and Its Furniture?

The reign of Queen Victoria, the period's namesake, marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Britain was at its most powerful and there was a surge in affordable mass production. Citizens were able to take advantage of this prosperity to get on the bandwagon and enjoy the comforts of life, one of those is being able to invest in their homes. They were finally given the chance to redecorate their homes which they were unable to do so in the past.

Technological advances also allowed for travel leading to additional trades and influence from other cultures. The Victorian period was an era of revivals from designs that could only be afforded by the aristocratic in the past. The addition of cultural resources and contribution of several designers oversaw the evolution of Victorian design.

Decoration became a symbol of social class. Bare rooms were considered in poor taste. The end goal was to show abundance by cramming many pieces of furniture, decorating elaborately and ornately and fitting in as much as the house will allow.

A Master of Many Styles
Queen Victoria ruled for a long time where she took to the throne at an early age of eighteen. As a result, the Victorian period saw a lot of revivals as well as influences. The styles take influence from Gothic revival, Romanticism, Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts movement as well as Asian and Middle Eastern influences.

Wallpaper – Wallpaper was one of the items that were being mass produced during the period. That and the abolishment of wallpaper tax which started during the reign of Queen Anne contributed to the popularity of its use. Floral patterns were common prints. William Morris, a textile designer, largely contributed to the use of Gothic and Medieval prints. He also created the large animal, floral and botanical prints.

Flooring – Wood parquet floors in mid-tones were commonly used. Linoleum with parquet patterns was a cheaper alternative.

Color – Most colors were subdued because pigments were limited back then. Pale creams and pastel colors were favored but darker browns, moss green and dark gray were also used. It is also said that Victorians assigned colors based on the use of a room. Functional spaces were painted in lighter colors and public spaces like the parlor or sitting rooms were painted in darker shades to conceal dirt.

With industrialization, more colors became available and ready-made paint was made affordable to everyone. Spaces were no longer monochromatic and different colors were used on the interior and exterior of the homes.

Stenciling and faux painting became a thing of the Victorian Era. Marbling, sponging, spattering and wood graining were techniques that were used on surfaces. Wood in furniture which was usually dark toned (mahogany, rosewood, walnut, ebony) was left unpainted.

Patterns – Aside from the floral patterns, chintz, botanicals, and toile were also favorites. Victorians loved their patterns and nothing was too much for their taste. From their wallpapers to their upholstery to their curtains, it was literally everywhere. Travel has made it possible to acquire pattern influences from other cultures. Imported tapestries and fabrics served as the inspiration for their colors and patterns.

Lincrusta, a heavily embossed wall cover invented by Frederick Walton, was popular because it could withstand heavy traffic and can be painted over. It was applied to dados and cornices for adornment.

Fireplaces – No Victorian home is complete without a mantelpiece and a fireplace. It was often made of wood with ornate carvings.

Wainscot Paneling – Paneling was largely associated with the Victorian Era. It served to insulate rooms in stone buildings to make it more comfortable.

Victorian Furniture, the Larger the Better
Like their interiors, their furniture was heavily influenced upon by different cultures, movements, and revivals. For them, the belief was the bigger the furniture, the better it can accommodate people. The technological advances allowed for the quicker mass production of each piece. Past pieces like the Chesterfield Sofa were given new life during the Victorian period. Variations of armless chairs were created for women and their balloon skirts.

Spring Upholstery and Solid Wood – Coil springs were patented in Britain by R. Tradwell in 1763 long before the Victorian era started. It carried over and manufacturers began using it in their mass production of upholstery. To accommodate the coil spring, chair legs were made shorter and seats deeper. This also required for sturdier woods. Hardwoods such as mahogany, rosewood, and walnut were commonly used. The Victorians subdued their walls and ceilings but contrasted the space with dark toned woods.

Elaborate Details - Victorian pieces were always elaborate and never plain. Their wooden furniture was always carved and the edges of upholstery were always curved with embellishments. Scrolls, cherubs, leaves, vines, fleur-de-leis, ribbons and bows all accompanied bed frames, couches, settees, tables, and chairs. Fancy but dust-catching carving enveloped their designs.

Gilding and embossing were sometimes used for added detail. The Victorians made sure not to miss any spot.

Heavy and Expensive Fabrics – The newfound wealth of the Victorians were reflected on the upholstery of their furniture. Brocades, damasks, and velvets in rich colors were often tufted with buttons to a chair of a previous style. Fabrics were sometimes in single solid colors but oftentimes it was floral to match their wallpapers.

Bulky Furniture – Victorians were always generous with proportions. Their furniture was characterized by oversized and heavy buffet tables.

Recycled Pieces – The Victorian Period has heavily lent and relied on pieces mostly from French pieces like the Louis XV chair, settees and t├ęte a tetes or the S-shaped sofa. The balloon back chair was said to be original and considered a successfully comfortable chair because it molds to the back of a person when seated.

Victorian Style enjoyed longevity during Queen Victoria's reign. Sadly, it has slowly declined with the introduction of minimalism and more modern trends. Although the style is considered as vintage, plenty of designers have successfully replicated the style in a more contemporary method. Styles such as shabby chic also takes pieces from the Victorian style and blends it with its other elements. The style may have declined but it left impeccable remarks in the world of Interior Design.

- Jordan, Robert Furneaux. Victorian architecture. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966.
- Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. "Early Victorian Architecture in Britain." (1955).

Related Article
- How to Identify Queen Anne Furniture

Last review and update: August 27, 2018

About the Author

Patty Benjabutr is an interior design enthusiast. She loves to write about actionable home decor knowledge because she believes interior design content is something much more than a collection of beautiful photos. You can contact Patty via e-mail.