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Victorian Style Defined

How to decorate with Victorian-inspired design.

By Lisa Frederick

Few monarchs ever achieve the level of association with an entire set of customs, conventions, mores, and decorative trends that Britain's Queen Victoria enjoyed. During her lengthy reign from 1837 to 1901, a very distinctive style of home architecture and design emerged, still in use and recognizable today. The recent rise of the Steampunk trend, which blends industrial edge with Victorian quaintness, has helped to keep Victorian style in the spotlight.

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Elegant Traditional Living Room
Barbara Eberlein

The Basics

The Victorian design we usually think of is layered and luxuriant (detractors might say cloying). It puts an emphasis on weighty fabrics, handsome and heavy furniture, somber colors, and decorative objects aplenty. The advent of the industrial age meant that factory-produced goods were plentiful and affordable, which helped fuel the taste for material excess that became a hallmark of the look.

These designer rooms display Victorian design:

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Coleman Bower
Burrows Studio

Maximalism. More was more for the Victorians, and their homes showed it. Decorative tchotchkes, from porcelain busts to gazing balls, cluttered nearly every surface in every room. Walls were plastered with prints; shelves were piled with books and bric-a-brac. Even the floor wasn't immune, with easels, occasional tables, plants, lamps, and other miscellany crowded around its perimeter.

Mass-produced pieces. The Victorian era saw the rise of large-scale manufacturing, and craftsmanship took a backseat to convenience and efficiency. Artisan goods were eschewed in favor of factory-made furnishings, textiles, and accessories. Because furniture ornamentation could be done quickly by machine rather than laboriously by hand, embellishments became more and more common—and increasingly over-the-top.

Opulent fabrics and patterns. The taste for maximalism wasn't limited to objects. Textile and furniture motifs showed the same lack of restraint: ornate carvings, colorful prints, lush Oriental rugs. Wallpaper came into fashion—the showier the better. Typically, a number of different patterns mingled together in the same room for an especially lavish appearance.

Sam Moore

Dark colors. No pastels, clear tones, or neutrals for this style—deep, rich, sometimes muddy hues conveyed a sense of dignity and importance: think eggplant, wine, forest green, royal blue. Lighter tones weren't unknown, but the predominant effect remained somber. Grayed colors, such as dusty rose, were in vogue as well.

Plump cushioning. Comfort reigned, and well-upholstered seats, arms, and backs were de rigueur. The invention of coiled springs meant enhanced padding; the combination led to a robust, overstuffed look that added to the sense of luxury.

If you like Victorian style, you may also like Steampunk and traditional style. Click to explore!

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