Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901, during a period of rapid development and change; her reign was longer than preceding monarchs and key events during the Victorian era included the Irish Famine, the Boer and Crimean Wars and of course, the Industrial Revolution and invention of the telephone. Production techniques became more viable though manufacturing on large scales with the use of machinery, so Victorians were not short of furniture. Often, households would be seen as grander if they were plentifully furnished and every room would hold several items to demonstrate wealth and status.
The rooms in which such furniture sat were changing; heavier skirting was common, elaborate plasterwork, ceiling roses and intricate cornices added detail to a room. Paint effects on walls were popular interior design features and things looked plump, colourful and busy. Mantle pieces were shelves for numerous curiosities and ornaments, potted plants sat in sunny spots and tassels and drapes covered large sash windows.
Like any period in history, the Victorian style did not sit alone, especially at the turn of the 19th Century. Other influences on style such as art nouveau and gothic elements would have been present in some home furnishing pieces. Indeed, some argue that furniture design became led by manufacturing techniques and not necessarily by craft or design during the Victorian period. However, there are a few clues which indicate Victorian pieces as distinct from other furniture fashions and times.
Most furniture pieceswould be of a dark finish. Favourite woods to use in the making of furniture included mahogany, oak, rosewood or walnut. If a piece was upholstered, revelations in the process by which cloth was dyed allowed a range of delicate, unusual colours such as pale pinks, greens and blues. Intricate patterns on upholstery gave a lighter appeal to items from this time and velvet was considered sumptuous. Often, late Victorian furniture will be a mix of dark wood and contrasting upholstery.
Much ornamental carvery would include natural scenes; flowers and fauna or curving lines. At this point in time, decorative and elaborate pieces were more accessible to people given manufacturing methods became more sophisticated; not only the grandest of homes had such delicate craft, many middle-class homes enjoyed pretty decorative items too. Embellishments and ornamental flourish were popular but mass produced by previous standards.
Unlike formidable and heavy wooden Gothic pieces, the Victorians often used marble in sideboards and side tables; the tops of which could be chunky pieces of marble. Earlier Victorian items did stay true to bulk and imposing design; often symmetrical and heavy, such items were not made to be moved around much and retained a utilitarian feel.
This newtechnique allowed wood and raw materials to be handled in a new way, so curves are another feature of the Victorian age. A favourite example might be a curved backed sitting chair or curved mouldings. Of this time, Chesterfield sofas serve as useful examples of heavy, dark and ornate woodwork, coupled with bright fabrics and often ‘buttoned’ upholstery.
There are still many pieces of Victorian antique furniture available today and they are easy to include in modern homes and lifestyles; often upholstery requires some restoration, which is easily achieved using a professional service. Their mix of weight and decoration mean that many designs fit neatly into modern schemes and with so many pieces to choose from; chairs, side tables, fireplace accessories, sofas, desks, finding something authentic and beautiful is an enjoyable voyage of discovery.