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Elements of Victorian Design Style

July 07, 2021

Victorian-style design was the 'It' look for most of the 19th century, an age when more was more, and everything from sofas to candlesticks dripped with ornamentation. Here’s a primer on this classic look, along with design tips for adding a Victorian vibe to your home.

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Photo: Photo Courtesy: Dan Piassick ©. From: Betty Lou Phillips.

Classic Style From the 19th Century

Victorian style hails from the age of Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens, when fashionable homes were filled with ornate furniture inspired by ancient history and exotic lands, and produced by the might of the Industrial Revolution. There’s no single Victorian look. Queen Victoria, the British monarch for whom the era is named, ruled for so long (1837 to 1901) that the era saw a mix of designs. “Victorian is a cacophony of styles,” says Casey Rogers, head of the Department of 19th-Century Furniture and Decorative Arts for Christie’s. Here’s a lesson on the many looks of Victorian.

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Photo: Christies


The Victorian Era was the age of the railroad boom and the first Industrial Revolution, when an upwardly mobile class was able to shop, travel and display its new wealth. “The Grand Tour becomes a thing in the Victorian Era,” Rogers says. “Newly wealthy people toured Europe and what they saw on their travels drove style and design in the era.” The ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman world — Rome, Pompeii and Athens — were popular destinations. So furniture that incorporated Greek Revival elements was hot, like this 1880 sideboard by Pottier and Stymus that features Greco-Roman busts, urns and a black finish with inlays that echo classic Greek black and red pottery.

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Photo: Christies

Gothic Revival

The Victorians’ travels drove a craze for Gothic Revival furniture that was inspired by medieval architecture — like Notre Dame Cathedral. Furniture in this style had pointed arches, heavy, intricate carvings of trefoils, quatrefoils, rosettes and spiky bits, like this carved oak triple-back hall settee from the late 19th century. Gothic Revival was at its zenith from 1845 to 1890, and it was one of the most popular styles of the Victorian era.

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Photo: Christies

Rococo Revival

Rococo Revival was another uber popular style of the Victorian era, and no one did rococo like John Henry Belter. The American cabinetmaker was the master of this most ornate of looks. His designs were inspired by the aesthetics of 18th century France and were nostalgic for a glorious, pre-industrial past. Arms and legs of his furniture were covered in carvings of fruit, flowers and leaves. Belter made his furniture in a New York City factory, when mass production of consumer goods was a new thing. The upwardly mobile masses gobbled up his over-the-top pieces, like this rosewood-veneer sofa made sometime in the 1850s. Can’t you see Morticia Addams sitting on this sofa?

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