By the 19th century, Great Britain had established itself as a world leader in style, fashion, the arts and architecture. The dominant fashion in London during a lot of this century was Victorian — named for Britain’s Queen Victoria, whose reign spanned from 1837 to 1901. Interior decorating throughout this time revealed strong influences from the Far East, in addition to influences from ancient civilizations and historical European designs. The Industrial Revolution and mass production made it feasible for more homes to show a look of opulence in this era, although by the end of the century, styles changed toward hand-crafted furnishings.
Influences of Victorian Style
One of the biggest influences on Victorian style came from the Medieval revival that began about 1830. The appearance was based on patterns and forms from the Middle Ages. Furniture mimicked Medieval architecture, featuring pointed arches and ornamental tracery or ornamental openwork patterns. It also featured elaborately painted scenes. French influences were also prevalent in Victorian fashion, as Rococo revival began to replace the Medieval appearance throughout the 1840s. Cabriole legs and oval backs on seats and sofas echoed the Louis XV styles of the previous century. It was not unusual in Victorian homes to locate an eclectic mix of artwork styles from room to room, like Medieval revival in the study, Rococo from the parlor and Renaissance from the dining area.
Embracing the Ancients
Archaeological discoveries in Greece, Italy and Egypt affected British artists and designers with architectural elements such as columns and pediments. Renaissance-inspired scrolling, ornamental forms, and classical or mythological figures surrounded by garlands and foliage were prevalent motifs on furnishings. Egyptian themes became popular on many kinds of decorative items. Sculptural friezes on ancient Greek and Roman architecture had been mimicked on wallpaper borders. Background replaced paint since the preferred appearance on walls, which were still typically divided into various sections — referred to as dado, infill and frieze, beginning at the skirting or baseboard and separated from the dado joinery rail and picture rail.
Influences In the East
London interiors during the 19th century represented strong influences from the Far East. Chinese blue-and-white garnish decorated dining tables and china cabinets. Popular motifs on British-made blue-and-white ceramics included topographical prints of India, willow patterns and Chinese scenes. Trade with Japan, beginning in the 1850s, brought about design influences like ebonizing furniture, or staining it shameful to resemble Japanese lacquer. Organic motifs, circular designs and geometric forms found in Japanese art became a powerful source of inspiration for British artists and designers. Hardwood Victorian floors were frequently covered with elaborate Oriental carpets.
Influential British Fans
By the end of the 1800s, London interiors were transitioning back to artisan workmanship using the Arts and Crafts movement. The movement was based on the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris, advocates of traditional handicrafts and improved designs of average domestic objects. Even though William Morris preferred woven textile hangings in his own home, other wealthy London homes featured his pricey wallpapers inspired by organic motifs and trellis patterns. John Ruskin was a powerful art critic with a passion for medieval architecture. Ruskin’s writings had a profound influence on bringing Gothic design back into fashion. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a painter and designer admired for his realistic paintings of early Greek, Egyptian and Roman scenes and his design of Classical interiors based on ancient Greek and Roman architecture and culture. He decorated his London residence in Grecian-Roman style.