Last week I wrote a piece for the Daily Mail about the rise of nu-Victorian…
Move over minimalism. Over the past few months interiors have been getting busier, grander and increasingly ornate. You might have noticed yourself buying more plump, colourful cushions, installing a decorative, quirky lamp or even a bell jar to put on your sideboard.
Unwittingly you’ve embraced the new Victorian look. You see, the latest interior inspiration isn’t actually modern at all, it harks back to a golden, romantic age in homeware.
The Victorians were the original house-proud crowd. Thanks to their increased wealth due to the industrial revolution and the emergence of mass-produced manufacturing, they were able to afford the kind of furniture, fabrics and accessories that were previously out of reach. Doing up your house was the trend of the day and a reflection of your prosperity, which meant that more was most definitely more in the 1850s.
“The Victorians developed tastes for the exotic and the unusual in their homes as a by-product of their fast-expanding views of the world through trade and industry,” explains Jamie Green of interiors store Graham and Green. “Displaying finds from far flung corners of the world, minimalism was never a consideration – favoured objects of culture and taste were integrated into schemes as a sign of progressive decadence, success and an understanding of the world.”
It’s no coincidence that this season at Graham and Green you buy a lobster or other curiosities in a bell jar; or an ornamental pineapple for your sideboard (pineapples were completely exotic and a real status symbol in Victorian Britain), or that John Lewis is selling terrariums.
No home in Queen Victoria’s reign would have been complete without opulent velvet cushions, an elegant button-back sofa, lavishly patterned fabrics and richly coloured walls, whether papered or painted. They loved to display their artefacts in glass bell jars, indoor plants in terrariums and used lots of lamps to brighten their parlours.
“Victorian décor is usually remembered as an eclectic mix of styles and excessive ornamentation,” comments Pip Prinsloo, design manager for homeware at John Lewis. “Wallpaper became mass produced during this period and was often adorned in damask and large floral, bird and animal motifs, similar to the Morris and Co marigold wallpaper that we still sell today.”
So what’s behind the revival of the Revival era? While the recent years of minimal grey and neutral coffee were sure to have their day, industry experts have other ideas, namely the “Downton effect”.
“There’s been a surge of popular period dramas and people are looking to recreate this opulence in their own homes,” says Prinsloo.
It’s something that fireplace manufacturer Chesney’s has also seen, as sales of decorative and period-style fireplaces have soared by 25 per cent in the past year. “The likes of Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge seem to be influencing our customers – some are restoring the original features of their period home, and people in new-build homes are looking to add character,” confirms Paul Chesney. “Thanks to Downton Victorian bathroom suites are in demand – our chain-pull toilets and range of roll-top baths are now bestsellers,” adds Adam Chard at Victoria Plumb.
“People are attracted to the sense of romance that this aesthetic conjures,” comments bespoke furniture designer Barbara Genda. “The self-contained cosy grandeur with its opulent rich colours and architectural embellishments also provides a comforting cocoon from the foreboding outdoors. Modern day furnishings are generally reinterpreting this trend in a more muted way – simpler and sleeker in appearance with just a whisper of old world glamour coming through, perhaps in the elegant curvature of a chair leg or the tactile velvet of embellished upholstery.”
While the new Victorian style is certainly inspired by its decadent past – just take a look at Marks and Spencer’s latest collection with its button-back velvet chairs, rose-print black lacquer chest and cushions printed with Victorian-looking art – today less is more. Incorporate a few key pieces into a contemporary colour scheme for maximum impact, or add some quirky, playful accessories for a cheeky nod to the era.
While the Victorian home would be crammed with curiosities, it is more striking to make a feature out of one or two contrasting pieces. “Hunt out sofas and chairs with decorative carved wood – Victorian solid wood furniture is solid as a rock,” advises interior designer Phoebe Oldrey. “Get them upholstered in striking bold fabrics to have as statement pieces in your lounge or bedroom. These look amazing in industrial loft style interiors.”
Prices for Victorian furniture are a steal and you can pick up pieces for half the price of Ikea with twice the personality in junk shops, auctions and even charities, such as Emmaus, which has 70 second-hand furniture shops that are a trove for original brown wood furniture, and silver, brass and glass candlesticks, decanters and tableware that, in a digital age, people are no longer inclined to polish and clean.
“Take elements that you like and mix them with both bright and muted tones to give the more traditional Victorian style a lift. Or find a traditional design with a modern twist, it provides a fantastic juxtaposition, which is so effective,” suggests Jane Rockett of Rockett St George.
While the Victorians loved busy, ornate floral wallpaper, often adorned with animal motifs, making a feature from just one wall is far more striking. William Morris Co, Cole and Son and Graham and Brown, which has a licence to produce original designs from the V&A museum, all offer patterns that suit the look, often in more modern colours. For a modern twist, Lovemapson.com produces wallpaper of original Victorian Ordnance Survey maps, which you can tailor to your own postcode.
Get the look
Decorative bell jars, £39.95-£98, www.grahamandgreen.co.uk
Golden pineapple, £28, www.grahamandgreen.co.uk
Urban Botanist Gem Succulents Aztec Terrarium, £64.95, www.johnlewis.com
Babbington small sofa in Roanna floral, charcoal, £2099, www.marksandspencer.com
Vintage family portrait cushion, £25, www.marksandspencer.com
Bronte chaise longue, £895, www.loaf.com
Distressed black display cabinet, £250, www.rockettstgeorge.co.uk
Vintage Singer table with wooden top by Ines Cole, £1695, www.rockettstgeorge.co.uk
Abigail Ahern Edition designer grey hare lamp, £85, www.debenhams.com
Ordnance Survey map wallpaper, from £120, www.lovemapson.com
Jethou chair in Jellies and Cakes by Thornback and Peel, mustard, £800, www.sofa.com
Arcade Piccadilly freestanding shower temple, £7498, www.arcadebathrooms.com
Floor tiles, www.originalstyle.com
Victorian-style printed, handmade ceramics, from £26, www.rockettstgeorge.co.uk
Winchester single-ended slipper bath, £295, www.victoriaplumb.com