Decorating with Victorian Colours

Victorian colours in a den

Victorian colours in a den

A reader asked me this week to write a blog post on colours for a Victorian Home. This is actually a tall order because there are several things that a homeowner must keep in mind before choosing colours. Here are some of them:

  • First of all not all colours were suitable for every single room. Colours used in bedrooms were quite different from those used in dens or libraries, for example.
  • Rooms had genders and certain colours were associated with genders. The parlour was considered a feminine room so the lighter colours were more suitable such as gold tones, wheat, dull brown, grey blues etc. Other examples of feminine rooms are children’s rooms, nurseries, bedrooms (unless the “master” had his own bedroom), sewing rooms and sun porches or other seating areas.
  • The dining room, surprisingly, was a masculine room. (Picture an image of a man seated at the head of the table surrounded by the best food, dishes, silver, furniture and paintings he could afford to buy his family). Masculine colours were darker, richer colours such as bottle green. navy blue, deep red or burgundy, dark gold, and dark brown. Other rooms that were considered masculine included the entrance, the library, den, smoking room, and billiard room.
  • The Victorian period was a long one so colours changed significantly during that time. The colours that were popular at the beginning of the era were much brighter than those at the end of the period. The Georgian colour palette was in place for some time after Queen Victoria came to the throne. The death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861 threw the entire country into “sympathetic mourning”. The colours of mourning such as dark purple or violet, black, navy blue and dark brown moved from clothing to home decor.
William Morris papers & fabrics were popular

William Morris papers & fabrics were popular during the late Victorian period.

There were also several styles of decor that dictated the colours that typically would be used in a room.

For example, the popular “French” style recreated the look of Louis XV and Louis XVI. This meant that the furniture would have had feminine curves, pale colours and lots of gold. Entire suites of furniture could be purchased that reproduced this look. Much of this furniture is known today as “Rococo Revival” . Can you guess where this furniture and colours would have been used? Exactly – bedrooms, parlours and sitting rooms.

The room at the left shows a chair covered in William Morris fabric and paper on the walls. These colours as you can see are much more muted but not dark. They tie in with the Arts and Crafts philosophy of using colours that are based on natural materials such as terracotta, stone grey, sky blue, sage green, greyed teal blue, brick red, and so on.

Colours were used in very interesting combinations during this era. It is also very important to know how to divide the walls in a Victorian house. By this I mean dividing your wall into dado (or wainscot), field and frieze). Deeper colours work best at the bottom of a wall but what ever you do, never cut your wall exactly in half. It will kill the scale of your room – no matter how attractive the colours on the wall are. (By the way if you don’t know about wall divisions let me know and I can do a blog post on that).

So tell me, what types of colours do you like for Victorian homes?

2 responses to “Decorating with Victorian Colours

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