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17 September 2014
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Victorian fireplace

Victorian (1837 to 1901)

Queen Victoria's reign was a time of great change in the home. Mass production meant more goods were available to buy. The newly emerging middle classes took immense pride in their homes which they saw as a reflection of status.

Morris wallpaper

People pored over the new magazines showing the latest household goods and flocked to see them on display at the numerous exhibitions. The Victorian age was the age of imitation and reproduction. Every style from Gothic to rococo was revived. Sometimes more than one style influenced a sole piece.


  • eclectic mix of styles
  • excessive ornamentation
  • plump, heavily upholstered furniture
  • flowers, birds, animals are portrayed realistically rather than the stylised versions of art nouveau


  • Gothic - masculine preserves such as libraries and billiard rooms were built in the Gothic style
  • rococo - the frivolous feminine style was popular for ladies' bedrooms
  • travel to places like Japan and India brought back an Oriental influence on design
  • the industrial revolution meant that new techniques such as lamination and electroplating were introduced
  • world trade opened up

The names

  • William Morris - leader of the arts and crafts movement
  • Horace Walpole - author of first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, who rebuilt his house, Strawberry Hill, in Gothic style
  • William de Morgan - tiles

At the time

  • 1836 England's main railway system begins to be built
  • 1837 Morse code is invented
  • 1846-8 Great Potato Famine of Ireland
  • 1847 Jane Eyre is written by Charlotte Brontë
  • 1876 Telephone is invented by Alexander Bell

Victorian vases, patterned window, carriage clock, mahogany chairs

Get the look

  • Lay patterned carpets with a faded grandeur, leaving a border of polished floorboards. Floorcloths, a canvas painted with oils and many layers of linseed oil, can be used for less grand rooms.
  • Tiles - for areas with heavy traffic, such as halls and kitchens, the best flooring is encaustic tiles (where the pattern is baked on in a kiln). Victorian ones are usually highly patterned. Many original floors still exist today but very good reproduction tiles are also available.
  • Rich dark colours such as ruby reds and forest greens are typical. The Victorian colour palette was quite limited because chemical processes were still developing. Purple and blue came in by the middle of the century. Most of the leading paint companies now produce good heritage ranges.
  • From the 1840s, wallpaper went into mass production. Paper from the skirting board up to the dado rail. Look for flock, damask or water silk papers featuring large blowsy flowers or other recurrent motifs of the time such as birds and animals. A William Morris design would be perfect.
  • Furniture - should literally be overstuffed. Look for plump armchairs with button backs, easy chairs, pouffes and ottomans. Crowd the room with furniture.
  • Fabrics - highly patterned. Use velvet and damask for the winter and exchange with muslin, cottons and chintz for the summer.
  • Paint - the Victorians liked their paint effects. Try faux marbling, stencilling, and stippling surfaces, borders and wood.
  • Woodwork - stain it dark. If your skirting boards have been ripped out, replace them with new ones. Victorian skirting boards were particularly deep, about 30cm high and 4cm thick.
  • Fireplaces - ornate and ostentatious and mostly cast iron, although wood can also be used. Fabric is draped rather dangerously from the mantelshelf.
  • Mouldings - made from papier maché and stuck on rather than being an integral part of the wall. You can buy them from DIY stores and specialist suppliers. Large ceiling roses are essential but for other decorative mouldings (corbels, cornices, etc) any style goes from Gothic gargoyles to rococo scrolls and feathers to classical urns and swags. Paint them the same shade as, or one tone darker than, the ceiling.
  • Runners suit a Victorian hallway and stairs. Look for ones in plain colours such as red or green or with a contrasting stripe. Paint or stain the outside treads a dark brown.
  • Opt for brass, cast iron, pewter and tin light fittings. If you're hunting for original pieces, look for the lozenge-shaped mark topped with a crown that was stamped on most Victorian designs from 1842 to 1883.
  • Have a roll top bath with claw feet. Buy one new or find an original at a salvage yard.
  • Cover every available surface with ornaments and particularly stuffed animals in glass domes. Place pairs of porcelain dogs at either end of the crowded mantelpiece.
  • Fill your fireplace with dried flowers.

What to invest in

  • original crewelwork and embroidery such as samplers
  • William Morris designs
  • Liberty & Co pieces
  • William de Morgan tiles
  • Japanese papier maché furniture

Where to see it

  • The Houses of Parliament, London - an example of Victorian Gothic architecture, 1847
  • Victoria & Albert Museum, London
  • Geffrye Museum, London. Tel: 020 7739 9893
  • Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, Leeds. Tel: 0113 230 5492
  • The Tenement House, Glasgow. Tel: 0141 333 0183
  • Lanhydrock, Bodmin - High Victorian country house. Tel: 01208 73320

Further reading

  • The Home Front Guide To Doing Up Your Period Home by Stewart & Sally Walton (BBC Books)
  • Victorian House Style by Linda Osband (David & Charles)
  • How to Restore and Improve Your Victorian House by Alan Johnson (David & Charles)
  • Victorian Style by Judith and Martin Miller (Mitchell Beazley)
  • The 1900 House (Channel 4 Books)
  • Victoriana: A Buyer's Guide to the Decorative Arts 1837-1901 by Rachael Field (Macdonald Orbis)

© Image copyright:
Victorian vases image courtesy of the Antiques Roadshow finds database.
Carriage clock image courtesy of the Antiques Roadshow finds database.
Mahogany chairs image courtesy of the Antiques Roadshow finds database.

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