Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Victorian style and the "Art of Exotic Ornamentalism"

Whenever I do lectures on Victorian Interior Design, I often get asked what is Victorian style? Now I can go into the 'textbook answers' about the history the main players of the era. But often its easier to tell you what it is not. Victorian Is not:

Ducks with hats, wooden shelfs with sawn hearts, It not 'clutter for the sake of clutter.

Victorian style is a combination of artful placement, layering of materials and striking a "sophisticated balance" that said more about ones hopes and ambitions and how "worldly' one was. If one were to make a historical comparison. the Victorian shared a lot with the 'dot com era' of the 1990's. It was about success, it was about ambition, it was about 'keeping up with the Jones'. More importantly it was about the fact that the Victorian believed  that ANYTHING was possible. Most of them came to this country or were 1st generation Americans and they understood that hard work and the belief in ones abilities could overcome almost anything. Remarkably different than today where many are 'government dependent' from birth to grave.

Ones home even if it was a modest one, was about ones dreams and ambitions and it was a "personal statement' Particularly among the middle and business class of the era.The hardest part of this era from a design standpoint is we have no color photographic records of the era. We know the popular colors of the era, from written accounts. We know the Victorian appreciated the "exotic", but we largely only have black and white photos to guide us on the way they arranged things so we must 'guess' about the colors.

Studying those images tells us a lot about how they achieved that art of "Exotic Ornamentalism". We see rich fabrics, the mixing of fabrics and the use of layering to achieve a luxury using fairly common items.

By using simple things like Peacock feathers and patterned fabrics in the Aesthetic or  Moorish style, we create a sense of a far away place and the "presumption' that the Victorian of the era had perhaps traveled there. Or at the least that they appreciated the finer things and were well read on world travels. This was one of the reasons that the "Worlds Expositions" were so popular in the era as it gave one the opportunity to see how people lived in exotic locals albeit "staged". Because much like a fine Victorian home and these B&W photos of the era they are "staged" too.

But this exercise illustrates that you can have an authentic Victorian look by using items you can find at antiques stores or on line. Because what we are looking at is a 'Staged area' that I set up to illustrate that by studying your room in black and white mode ( by simply converting your color photo into Blank and white) you can get a much better sense if you room really "looks Victorian.

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