The rise of Victoriana in British homes
If you are reading this, you might count yourself among those who resent the unrelenting hyperbole surrounding minimalist design. Whilst it would never do to quash another aesthetic – the definition of ‘good taste’ is ever changing and therefore arguably subjective – we cannot help but feel our antennae quiver at the winds of change rustling through interiors. What ho, we hear you exclaim, is minimalism on the way out? Reader, it is. As the pendulum of design inevitably swings, so we see one style rise and another fall. Minimalism will most likely never fall too far from good grace, but its daring, more glamorous cousin maximalism is certainly making up for lost time. Interior trends are painting a moodier future, with homes increasingly characterised by rich shades, patterned wallpapers and ornate references. With Scandinavians fainting in horror at this display of British barbarism, we take a closer look at those who first embraced life à la maximaliste.
Enter the Victorians
Among those unwilling to die on the altar of minimalism were the Victorians. The 19th century home witnessed a medley of dramatic decor, embracing sumptuous dark colour schemes, ornately carved furniture, and walls adorned with pattern. Compare a televised Austen (read: Georgian) drama, with an aura of billowing linen dresses, delicate floral prints and homes bedecked in calming hues, to its Victorian counterpart. Likely the latter conjures up a darker Dickensian image of winding streets dotted with figures in richly coloured satin dresses and ornamental hairstyles. In the same way that fashion often informs interiors today, so the Victorian home reflected this swell of maximalist flair. This is comparable to the contrast between the 1990s and where we sit now, on the edge of the Roaring 20s. The clean lines and block colours of the late 20th century are being exchange
What was behind Victorian maximalism?
The Victorian era bore witness to the rise of the British empire and travel to exotic lands such as Japan and India. This opened eyes to the rich visual traditions of other cultures, which were then translated into the everyday of society’s leading fashionistas. Mass production and more affordable products enabled people to fill their homes with striking textiles and furniture. It is unsurprising that the domestic landscape came to feature touches of this great unknown, embracing animal prints and sculpture, richly pigmented colour schemes and darkly stained woods. The era also saw a passion for combining many earlier styles – albeit in a greater diversity than ever before. Not unlike the Renaissance era, many Victorian homes demonstrated a bid to reclaim aspects of medieval antiquity. At a glance, 19th century styles include Gothic Revival references such as spires, buttresses, pointed arches, and decorative ironwork. Other medieval influences are the fleurs de lys, heraldic motifs and quatrefoils, all of which abound in Victorian homes alongside flock and damask prints. In the 21st century, those graced with Victorian homes might enjoy original features such as patterned, encaustic floor tiles and stained or etched glass windows. Survivors of the 70s cull of period details include a few rare ornate marble, slate or cast-iron fireplaces remain intact, often inset with patterned tiles.
Soft furnishings is another area in which the Victorians excelled. Tassels really came into their own and, despite having been banished from the lofty realms of good taste over the past few decades, are making another comeback. We now see them on lampshades, plump over-stuffed sofas and button-backed armchairs, ottomans, even on clothing. Friends of the tassel include all forms of textile embellishment such as tufting, fringe and pleating. The aim of all this variety is to break up a room by skilfully mismatching different textures, a look which has long been by championed by masters of the eclectic countryside aesthetic.
Create your own house of curiosities
Over the years, we have shied away from such daring landscapes in our own homes. Decor schemes with chintz, tassels, dark colours tended to meet with unanimous scorn in favour of clean, sweeping lines and pale palettes. Slowly, however, the maximalist aesthetic has been making its way back into the heart of the British interiors. A cushion print here, an ironic tiger statue there. Walls decked in deep, inky hues. Some fabulous velvet curtains. Here is a list of wonderfully characterful finds that will lend a touch of Victorian panache to your own home.
- A huge Italian hand decorated ceramic black and white leopard
2. An antique Victorian carved armoire in walnut
3. A vintage French over-mantle mirror
Title image: houseandgarden.co.uk