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If you're into maximalism, you probably dream about what it would have been like to be alive 100 years ago when interior design was ornate, brash, and anything but minimalist. Categorized as the time period when Queen Victoria ruled, Victorian interior design is all about filling every corner, nook, and cranny.
Though the design magazines of today may be filled with sparse rooms and understated design, during the Victorian age, a minimalist home would have been perceived as tasteless. According to Maiya Kathryn Dacey, owner of Maiya Kathryn Design, "The Victorian era is symbolic of what was at the time accessible extravagance, where 'more is more is more' must have been the mantra."
Meet the Expert
Maiya Kathryn Dacey, owner of Maiya Kathryn Design, a residential interiors firm serving the Washington, D.C. metro area.
What goes out of style always comes back again, so let's take a look at this lavish era of design and see how we can incorporate elements of Victorian décor today.
The History of Victorian Interior Design
Spanning 1837 to 1901, Queen Victoria's reign coincided with an era of innovation and creativity throughout both England and the rest of the world. Though it's recognizable for its showy and flamboyant elements, Victorian-style incorporates a variety of styles from the surrounding time periods. With the rise of affordable mass production, interior design went from something reserved only for the rich to a hobby even the middle class could partake in.
Because people could now afford to fill their homes with furniture and art and tapestries, well, they really did fill their homes. "Collections were all the rage, which we are certainly seeing more of again," Dacey explains. "During the Victorian period, every surface could easily be covered with objects,"
The Victorian age brought with it increased globalization and travel, which was also reflected in interior design. All of a sudden everyone had access to magazines and newspapers that showcased how the rest of the world lived and influenced the middle class to "keep up with the Joneses."
Key Elements of Victorian Interior Design
When you think "décor fit for a queen," you probably conjure up images of Victorian interior design. Furniture was ornamental and featured a lot of decorative elements added purely for aesthetic purposes. This was definitely a time where form trumped function in interior design, so furniture was often bulky and oversized, with intricate details such as carved arms or legs, or mother of pearl inlays.
Another key feature of Victorian interior design was a heavy use of tapestries and wallpaper. Rarely did you find a wall or surface without an intricate pattern or bold color adorning it. Rich jewel tones such as green, blue and purple reigned not only for their powerful, rich feeling but also because they hid blemishes and dirt.
Walls were covered with elaborate wallpapers filled with floral patterns and often featured textures to give the room a lot of visual interest. "One of our favorite parts of Victorian décor is coordinating wallpaper and fabrics and papers meant to mimic velvet swags, trims, and other inaccessible decorative elements," Dacey says. "When these things are introduced intentionally in small amounts they provide excellent focal points."
Never accused of being boring or bland, Victorian interior design was all about using every inch of that house you worked so hard to build or buy. From the fireplace mantle to the bookshelf (which was, of course, built-in), you would find objects and art. And as folks began to travel the world, interior design evolved to incorporate elements of international design as well.
How to Use Victorian Design Today
What goes around comes around, especially in interior design. Today, designers tired of the understated minimalist look are going bigger, bolder and louder. Victorian interior design is the perfect inspiration for anyone who wants to give their home the royal treatment and isn't afraid to go big.
Before you start to channel your inner royal, it's important to find the perfect mix of ornate and modern. "We like to use antiques as accents paired with streamlined pieces with clean lines or curves," explains Dacey. "Jewel tones were a favorite during the period because of increased access to cheap but stable fabric dyes, opening up the average person's home to color."
When mixing in Victorian elements, it's best to tread lightly. Too much of a good thing can feel stuffy or overdone, but mixing in a couple of beautiful antique pieces or outfitting a bare accent wall with a brocade wallpaper can add a lovely balance to an otherwise modern living space or dining room.
Victorian interior design isn't for those who embrace the "less is more" idealism when it comes to decorating, but if you like to add a lot of visual interest and make a statement, consider channeling Queen Victoria during your next home makeover.