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What is Victorian Interior Design?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Victorian interior design is an approach to interior design inspired by the Victorian Era, a famous period in British history which lasted from 1837 to 1901. The Victorian Era marked huge shifts in British society, and many of these shifts were reflected in interior design. Many people view this era as a very romantic period in history, and they have drawn heavily on the inspirations of the Victorian age when decorating homes, ranging from real Victorian homes maintained in an authentic period style to modern homes with Victorian-influenced interior design.

One of the key developments of the Victorian Era was the Industrial Age, and the Industrial Age had a profound impact on interior design. Before the advent of mass production, everything used to decorate a home was made by hand, and only the truly wealthy could afford opulent interior design schemes. With the advent of mechanization, the middle classes could afford objects traditionally associated with the rich, and authentic Victorian interior design is dense, lavish, and ornate; it can be almost overwhelming for people who are accustomed to more spare modern aesthetics.

The Victorians may be remembered as staid, but they loved rich, deep colors and textures. Victorian homes were often wallpapered with very bold, bright patterns which included flocking, raised designs with a velvety texture. Furnishings were upholstered with equally bright colors and rich textures, and Victorian interior design featured a lot of gilding, ornate carving, and other lavish touches.

Since electricity was absent for much of the Victorian Era, Victorian rooms were filled with an assortment of candles and lamps which provided low, warm light. Victorian rooms in general tended to feel very cozy and warm, if crowded, and flooring was typically covered in lush rugs for those who could afford them, and painted floorcloths for those who could not. Other decorative touches included things like houseplants in ornate pots, sculpture, and paintings. Some Victorian interior design was also infused with Asian-inspired pieces like folding screens, due to the mania for Chinoiserie which swept the public in the 1800s.

Homes decorated with Victorian interior design which is true to the period can sometimes feel ludicrous and over the top to modern eyes. As a result, most people draw from Victorian influences, but choose not to go all-out with their interior design schemes. They may, for example, utilize rich colors on the walls to offset pieces of Victorian furniture, but avoid the clutter associated with decorating schemes in authentic Victorian homes.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon248054 — On Feb 15, 2012

If you go for String, buy vintage. I bought a load of (new) String shelving in walnut a few years back but wasn't impressed with the quality. It's basically particleboard with a "walnut" faux painting Phoenix AZ laminate. Agreed, Vitsoe might be expensive but it's timeless and will last a lifetime - the quality of the build is outstanding. I've added to mine over a couple of years as and when I can afford bits and I had a 21-foot wall taken up from floor to ceiling with shelves and cabinets.

By backdraft — On Jun 19, 2011

Victorian design always makes me think of tea, and crumpets, and old ladies and mystery novels. Does anyone else ever get this vibe?

By whiteplane — On Jun 17, 2011

The article make a good point when it recognizes that in many ways, Victorian Interior Design was the first instance when we can point to broad trends in interior design. Because it happened in parallel with the industrial revolution, it became possible to mass produce design objects that would be the same throughout everyone's home.

Interior design existed before this, but not on a wide scale. Individual homes reflected the styles of the individual designers. It was only once there was a collection of identical objects, curtains, furniture and colors for a wide mass of people to purchase that broad trends in interior design took off. This is why the Victorian style is so recognizable in peoples minds

By popcorn — On Jun 15, 2011

Buying Victorian pieces for your interior design project can be quite the task. If you are looking for original pieces and not replicas, one of the best places to pick up pieces cheaply is at an estate sale.

Often homeowners with large estates have a few lovely pieces from the Victorian era that can be picked up for a bargain. You can check your local classifieds for information on these sales.

If you have the money, you may be able to find some good pieces at antique stores and at auctions. If you are going this route it is a good idea to take someone with you who can accurately judge the value of the pieces.

By nextcorrea — On Jun 14, 2011

@Gravois - I have to respectfully disagree. While I think that most viewers will be familiar with the looks and feel of Victorian interior design, today's designers draw on it primarily as a counterpoint. In fact, much of the style of modern design- clean lines, flat colors, simple shapes, utility etc, are a reaction against the ornamentation and frivolity of Victorian design. It is not so much a living and breathing styles as it is something to be avoided. There are those designers who will incorporate Victorian elements, but these are mostly ironic or referential and not meant to pay tribute to the Victorian style.

By gravois — On Jun 13, 2011

Most of us will have a least a passing familiarity with Victorian interior design because much of it has been preserved, documented, restored and reproduced. It remains a powerful reference point for a lot of the looks and styles that show up in interior design idea today?

By lonelygod — On Jun 13, 2011

If you are interested in Victorian interior design a good idea is to pick up some of the numerous books that feature simple and cost effective ways to implement design elements into your home, without it being overwhelming.

Often furniture like beautifully carved dining sets, and lush sofas that reflect the Victorian era are well received in even the most modern homes. These kinds of pieces when paired with minimalist backgrounds and accents can look stunning when featured well.

If you are unsure of how to make a Victorian piece fit into your home, consulting with an interior designer is a good idea.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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