No period in British history can rival the Victorian era in terms of architecture and design.
Around one in six houses in the UK are Victorian and after a long post-war period of shedding the past, many owners of these majestic homes are doing their best to rediscover the furnishings that suit these buildings.
So what’s the best way to achieve the Victorian look?
Lush: Victorian furniture in front of Morris & Co Willow Boughs wallpaper
Joe O’Donnell, director of the Victorian Society, says one of the first things to consider is how you use your home.
Modern homes tend to have more open living areas, but societal changes such as working from home and rising fuel bills are making the Victorian floor plan practical again.
“Houses were designed with individual rooms for a reason. “They are easier to heat and provide separate spaces for activities,” he explains. “This means you can accommodate the children in one room while you can sit comfortably in another.”
Restoring the house’s original floor plan therefore makes sense and also corresponds to its history.
“If all your period features have been ripped out, restoring chimneys, coves and sash windows is probably the most effective measure,” he says.
But don’t clutter every room with antique features, he warns. “Not all rooms would have had the same level of decoration,” he says.
The small bedrooms would be intended for staff or children, so ceiling canopies and ornate moldings look out of place.
Sometimes there can be conflicts between modern expectations and historical characteristics. Take, for example, poor insulation and drafty single-glazed windows.
So think about how the Victorians themselves dealt with these problems, says Joe: heavy curtains; take good care of the windows so they fit snugly; and shutters that insulate well.
It can be difficult to figure out what was originally there, but the easiest solution is to snoop around neighbors’ houses.
“You can recreate exactly all the features you’re missing and get to know your neighbor,” says Joe.
From Another Time: Around one in six houses in the UK are Victorian, but many owners have removed most of the original features over the years
Louise Booyens, an interior designer who specializes in historic homes, says we need to combine Victorian style with our modern way of life.
“Victorian interiors were crammed – there was definitely more to show off marital status and wealth,” she says.
“You don’t want to create that, so you need a balance between old and new.” If you have historic trim, combine it with modern lighting to show it off. Don’t build a museum.’
She suggests designing a room around a standout object or piece of furniture and recommends finding items at auction houses and antiques fairs such as the Newark and Ardingly fairs.
“Create a sense of drama – the Victorians loved drama.” So try an opulent sofa in two colors,” she says.
As for fabrics, Morris & Co has recolored some William Morris designs for the Queen Square collection. “They’re a nod to the past, but in bright, fun colors,” says Louise.
Her idea of designing a space around a single object is a plan Katie Wolicki and her husband followed when renovating their Victorian terraced house in Greenwich, London.
For the downstairs restroom, Katie chose half-paneled walls, with the top half covered in wallpaper with an imperial print of Native American scenes.
“But the space was defined by the sink,” she says. “It’s a huge red and purple Chinese porcelain bowl that I found online and fell in love with. It’s absolutely my favorite room.”