Decorating a Victorian period property

The era of eclecticism, ornamentation and excess makes for some intriguing discoveries when researching Victorian properties. Unlock your home's past and discover how best to complement original features from the 1800s.

Decorating a Victorian period property

Decorating a Victorian period property

Victorian property features

  • Sash windows
  • Grandoise fireplaces
  • Lavish detailing
  • Ornanately patterned tiles
  • Dado Rails
  • Dark and intense colours
  • Deep skirting boards
  • Stair runners
  • William Morris prints

What was the interior design of the day? (1837 - 1901)
Colour schemes were dark and intense. Ruby red, purple, vibrant blue and forest green were the most popular choices in the Victorian colour palette.

Paint effects such as stenciling and stippling were hugely popular. If you’re lucky (and very gentle!) you may discover some traces of faux marbling on wood, borders or walls.

Pull up the carpet and you may find original Victorian pine floorboards which would have been stained a deeper colour to imitate expensive wood. Note that Victorian skirting boards were particularly deep, about 30cm high and 4cm thick.

A prominent feature of the times was ornately patterned tiles so check your hall and kitchen flooring (if they’re William de Morgan it’s your lucky day). Also look for evidence of stair runners, perhaps with the outside treads varnished a darker colour.

When wallpaper went into mass production in the 1840s William Morris’s bird and animal print papers became hugely popular, so too did statement florals. Gently peel back the layers and you never know what you may find.

What are key architectural features?
Victorian homes were typically built from brick or stone with a lime mortar or render and Welsh roof slates. Sliding sash windows, with four and six panes, became popular in 1832 after the introduction of mass plate glass production.

Receptions and bedrooms tended to be well proportioned with grandiose fireplaces and some lavish detailing. Rooms would be crowded with furniture so dado rails were fashionable to prevent chair backs scraping the plaster.

What influenced Victorian architecture?
Victorian architecture covers a multitude of styles from frivolous Rococo whimsy to striking Gothic masculinity; the Renaissance and Romanesque revivals occurred during the period, as did the popular Arts and Craft movement.

Victorian designers and architects enjoyed breaking free from the traditional symmetry of box shape rooms and began experimenting with elaborate, asymmetric features. So it’s fair to say that Victorian architecture encompasses a veritable melting pot of styles!

Which years does the Victorian period span?
Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 to 1901 witnessed a time of profound change. The Industrial Revolution saw the introduction of mass production techniques and the opening up of world trade.

For the middle classes this meant access to a whole new plethora of homewares, building styles and techniques and homewares which they consumed voraciously.

Where can I find more information?
The Victorian Society campaigns for the preservation of Victorian and Edwardian architecture and offers excellent advice on maintenance and historical research. Victorian House Style: An Architectural and Interior Design Source Book comes highly recommended.

Plus, read our feature How to research the history of your home and don’t miss Nick Knowles’ Original Features, our popular series where Nick unlocks the genealogy of the UK’s period homes.

Watch our video on decorating period properties.