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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vintage Voice: Re-Creating Victorian Decor

I've been busy the last week or so perusing a couple of books I found at the library on Victorian decor. Though they were published in the mid-1980s, I still found them very helpful and some of the pictures inspirational.
I also finally bought a decent printer that can copy, print, scan and fax in black and white and color....and it's wireless! (I haven't had a printer in 4 years!).
I used the opportunity to scan a few pages from the books for this post.

The first book is called "Victorian Splendor, Re-Creating America's 19th-Century Interiors" by Allison Kyle Leopold.

The cover of the book shows this splendid bedroom. There are lots of great color photographs in this book, as well as a nice breakdown of all the different styles of the period. As many people who admire the Victorian Era know,  "Victorian" refers not really to a style, but to a period of time. It was a time with an unprecedented concern for the importance of interior design. As a result, many styles appeared, most of them revivals of one kind or another ( American Empire,Gothic Revival, Rococo Revival, Renaissance Revival are just a few), resulting in a range of Victorian ornament nothing short of overwhelming. The book is laid out in chapters that focus on one particular room of the house in turn and discusses the paint colors, wall papers, floor coverings, window treatments and various types of decor that was popular for each period, what was fashionable, what was not, and how the Victorians decorated their homes to show their status, cultural aspirations, family ties and their level of taste.

This beautiful dining room shows many of the "typical" things associated with Victorian decor; a copper and brass gasolier, crimson lambrequins on the windows, oversized oak sideboard and richly gilded wall frieze and dado.
The book also has some tips and suggestions on how to make your own home look more 'Victorian'. Included also are some examples of bedrooms and bathrooms and how the Victorian bathroom would have looked and been decorated. I was actually surprised to learn that many middle-class homes had a "bathing room" much earlier than I expected.

I was delighted to find this picture of a 'Victorian Revival' bathroom; original tile work and marble sink are paired with a freestanding oak- trimmed tub and a mirror which had once been part of a late-Victorian dresser. The brass hooks came from a hall tree and the old-fashioned heater is c.1880-1890. Other suitable decorative items give this bathroom a wonderful Victorian look.

The second book I looked at was this one; pictured on the front is Mark Twain's library from his home in Hartford, CT.  This book only a has a few color pictures but it is a treasure trove of information about paint, wallpapers, ceilings, woodwork, floors, windows and drapery divided into time periods (1830 to1850, 1850 to 1870 etc.). It details exactly what was "in style" for each time period, how materials were made and where they came from, what was considered 'poor taste' and what was popular. It basically explains what kinds of wall and window treatments the original builder and subsequent owners might have employed, what color schemes were popular, what sort of floor coverings were used and what sort of draperies and shutters covered windows.I also learned a few new terms for window treatments and floor coverings that I had not known before. Let's just say that from 1830 to 1900 Victorian decor was an almost inpenetrable thicket of styles, revivals, reform movements and terms and this book was very helpful.

I also loved the many illustrations taken from period magazines, catalogs and advertisments. This illustration was from The Workwoman's Guide, a popular book published in 1838, showing the variety of bedsteads, bed furniture and bedding available.
 Many other popular books and periodicals of the Victorian Era, like Godey's Lady's Book, An Encyclopedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture and Furniture, An Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy, The Lady's House Book, and Harriet Beecher Stowe's The Amerian Woman's Home, are quoted in this book also, to give you an idea of what the 'experts' of the day had to say about proper interior decor.

This illustration came from Godey's Lady's Book depicting window treatments that were then popular. One of the reasons that I checked out this book ,and the other, was to get an idea of appropriate window treatment styles for the front parlour. I have a feeling they will have to be custom-made.

These cornices and center blocks were shown in an 1882 catalog for Samuel H. French & Co. in Philadelpha. Above are some examples of painted ceilings from Interior Decoration (1885) by Fred Miller, an English decorator.

One of the things I was most intrigued to learn about were the various kinds of carpets and floor coverings used during the Victorian Era. Contrary to popular belief, hardwood floors covered with large Oriental rugs was not the "standard" or "fashionable" until late in the period. When most people think of a Victorian Era home they don't think of wall to wall carpeting, but up until the 1880s most American households had softwood floors that were covered in carpeting or matting.

Here's some terms and things I learned about carpeting and window treatments:

Brussels: a durable looped-pile carpet developed in Brussels c.1710 which became popular in America by the mid-19th century. Also called 'body Brussels'.
Axminster: A cut-pile carpet that was first woven by hand in the 18th century to imitate Oriental carpets. Machines capable of weaving Axminster carpeting were developed between 1867 and 1877.
Drugget: a durable inexpensive fabric woven in England and popularly used under dining tables to protect better floor covering, or sometimes used in "high traffic" areas.
Floorcloth: similar to drugget; a term used through the first half of the 19th century to identify a linen, cotton or jute cloth painted with oil-based paints (sometimes called oilcloth) and commonly used in entry halls and dining rooms.
Grass matting: a product woven in the Orient of various grasses and used as a summer floor covering or as the base for smaller carpets at other times of the year. Sometimes "carpet matting" was used year round as the only affordable floor covering in a poorer household.
Ingrain: An American term for a flat-pile, reversible carpet resembling a coverlet, in which the colors of the design on one side are reversed on the other. It was the most popular type of carpeting for a large portion of the 19th century. It was also sometimes called 'two ply'.
Kidderminster: another term for ingrain carpeting, denoting the weaving center near Birmingham, England where ingrain was first made in the early 18th century.
Lambrequin: a stiffened, unpleated fabric suspsnded from a cornice ablove a window and often embellished with cords, fringes and tassels.
List carpeting: a woven, flat-pile floor covering using strips of selvage as weft.
Portiere: a curtain hung at a doorway as a substitute for a door or as decoration.
Roller blind: a 19th century term for window shades.
Short blinds: lightweight curtains, often muslin, that covered the bottom sash of a double-hung window; called half-sash or "Morris" curtains by the end of the 19th century. Used often in summer months, it allowed cooling air to pass through the window, but kept out insects and provided some privacy. The majority of 19th century homes did not have window screens.
Valance: sometimes called 'vallens' or 'vallance'; fabric arranged in vertical folds suspended from a pole or cornice above a window; sometimes called a 'piped valance'.
Venetian carpeting: a reversible, flat-pile carpet usually woven of wool and jute and commonly striped.  They were woven in long strips and then seamed together to make large carpets. Loops of strong tape or cases of linen were sewn along the perimeter underneath the carpet. Rods threaded through the loops or cases and fastened to brass rings or hooks in the floor at the corners of the room helped keep the carpet taut.
Bug Bar or Mosquito-Bar: the 19th century term for a canopy of netting over the bed to protect from insects. The use of 'bug bars' was common in all parts of the country, suggesting that window screens were rare.

.Thanks for joining me! Hopefully you learned a few things along the way as well!


Debbie@Debbie-Dabble said...

Hi, Katie!!
I have the first 2 books and quite a bit more on Victorian Style. Too bad we did not live closer, I would let you borrow them!!
I am going to start to post some pics from some of my Victorian magazines showing Christmas scenes on my Christmas blog, A Debbie-Dabble Christmas, starting on July 1st for the entire month of July. Christmas in July!! I hope you will check it out when you get a chance!!


Heather said...

I really enjoyed this post, especially the beautiful images! My home was built in the 1870's and it is more farmhouse than victorian, but I was happy to see the hexagonal tiles in the bathroom photo, since we have put that in our newly added bathrooms.

Modern Country Lady said...

Isn't it gorgeous! Thankfully we have lovely books like this to look and marvel.I would love to have a house done up like the Victorians, with the occasional modern twist to lightn things up.And of course- washing machine, dishwasher and the lot :-)-which they did not have..
Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and prayers for my lovely cat Gibson on my latest blogpost. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your three lovely cats last year, that must have been so hard !!

victorian parlor II said...

The pictures are stunning!!! Thanks for sharing:).



Richard Cottrell said...

I have those books and love those rooms. I just love them. Thanks, Richard from My Old Historic House

Life in the Big Grey Victorian On The Corner said...

Thank you for the heads up! I have requested these books from my library! Can't wait to get them!

Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Katie-

I've owned the Victorian Interior Decoration book since it first came out and have loved it as a reference on all things Victorian! I've seen Victorian Splendor in stores... also an excellent book with great photos! It's nice to be able to refer to books like this, to see if what you're doing in your Victorian house is true to style. Love it!


GinaBVictorian said...

Hello again! I looked back at this post from your newest post. I love Victorian books from the 1980's as well and have several of them. I feel like the information is so much better in them then they are now. Thanks for sharing that!