Showing posts with label victorian homes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label victorian homes. Show all posts

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Finished Masterpiece - Home Decoration

Le moulinsur la Couleuvre à Pontoise(1881) by Paul Cézanne
“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.” –Paul Cézanne

Like artists, homeowners often experience the terror of the blank canvas. What furniture is appropriate? What wallpaper should we hang? What tile should we install? There are so many choices—sometimes even the best of us freeze up. Instead of moving forward, we stop, as if waiting for divine revelation.

Or inspiration.

While it may not solve every design dilemma, I’ve always believed that having the right color palette in hand is the best first step. Once you’ve chosen your primary, secondary and tertiary colors, the rest of the battle (and yes, sometimes renovation feels like winning a war) is just so much easier. Surprisingly, these colors often coexist in one item—like they were best friends all along—and this item can provide inspiration throughout the rest of the project. Whether it’s a rug, a vase or a swatch of wallpaper, this one piece acts as a trustworthy guide, a la Lewis and Clark, as you venture forward through uncharted territory.

Fortunately, I think this is where the Victorian enthusiast draws more comfort than other homeowners. We have an abundance of reference material available, from period-inspired wallpapers to historically accurate paint palettes to professional color experts. There are historical societies and other experienced homeowners. There are a plethora of books and, if you live in the right neighborhood, a bounty of local turn-of-the-century homes that have already been lovingly restored.

And, of course, there is our magazine—Victorian Homes.

For the Victorian homeowner, a blank canvas doesn’t have to be feared. It can—and should—be the onset of an exciting adventure. Brushstroke after brushstroke should exhilarate and stimulate and motivate you on to the next.

Because the bottom line is, more than any other homeowner, color, paint and wallpaper truly are our friends.

By MerrieDestefano

Friday, March 8, 2013

Art and Architecture: America’s Gothic Revival

Descending from medieval Gothic cathedrals and England’s Gothic Revival, “Carpenter Gothic” is a visually playful American architectural style. In her book Storybook Cottages, Gladys Montgomery explores the history, people and technology behind this picturesque style still beloved today.

home cottages
{Credit in caption: Photograph by Brian Vanden Brink, from Storybook Cottages by Gladys Montgomery, © Rizzoli 2011.}

In beautiful photographs, architectural renderings and illustrations from pattern books of the time, Montgomery showcases the style’s hallmarks: steep gables, pointed arches, windows and doors, and elaborate gingerbread trim. From the tiny cottages at Oak Bluff, Massachusetts, that began as a Methodist retreat to the lavish Lyndhurst high-style Gothic Revival residence in Tarrytown, New York, Montgomery offers a lot both to readers who know and love Carpenter Gothic and to those who are learning of it for the first time.

Montgomery includes a section on the Carpenter Gothic garden as well as a few ideas on incorporating the style into your home, such as imitating its architectural elements—for example, make a headboard, door frame, or window with a pointed wooden arch. For more ideas, check out Montgomery’s book: Storybook Cottages: America’s Carpenter Gothic Style, published by Rizzoli New York, © 2011. Visit

By Hillary Black

Source: Victorian Home

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Victorian Home Office

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as a home office. Or at least there was no single room that bore that name. In the humblest households, all the work of running the home was done by the woman, and her workspaces were scattered about, often carved out of spare space. She had separate areas for her main tasks—cooking, cleaning, ironing and sewing—but the nerve center of her operations was the Victorian version of the computer: the chatelaine, that brass or silver ornament that held pencil and paper, penknife and scissors, needle and thread handily at her waist.

victorian home
{Image courtesy of}

Her well-heeled sisters didn’t have it much better. They might have a writing desk or escritoire in the bedroom or—later in the century as posh gentlemen’s clubs reared their vainglorious heads—a place to work in the library while the husband of the house was out on the town.

The Victorian library, which sometimes also functioned as a schoolroom, office or study, tended to be decorated in a somber manner befitting its function. Furniture was simple, colors were dark and the prime focus was on the artful and efficient display of books, whether they be rare and beautifully bound collector’s volumes or the popular tomes penned by novelists like Twain and Dickens.

home collectibles
Photo by Jaimee Itagaki

When designing her home office, Marcia Sola wanted, like the Victorians, to balance the artful and the efficient. Two ways she did were selecting the perfect drapes and desk.

The drapes in Marcia Sola’s home office are high on looks and low in cost. For about $300-$430 for the discount fabric and $130 for rods and tiebacks—she turned two plain windows into elegant and opulent focal points.

The drapes get their good looks from the combination of three fabrics that play off the wall colors: a burgundy undercurtain made of shimmering taffeta, a pink-and-white toile and a brown and blush floral.
“I layered the fabrics to get a fuller effect,” she says. “They do actually close, but I never draw them. I use the shades to provide privacy.”

Gathered gracefully in a pocket rod and looped back over rosette-style tiebacks, the draperies look like vintage ballgowns.

The library table remains one of the better choices for an office desk because it is so versatile. Simple and stylish, it is perfect for a laptop or computer because it has a spacious flat top. When it is not being used for office work, it can be used for other more leisure purposes: It makes a great dining table, baking or food prep table (buy a heavy pad to protect its surface) or a buffet sideboard.

Then again, you may actually want to use it for what it was intended: a place to read a book or two—hardback, paperback or even electronic.

by Nancy A. Ruhling
Photography by Jaimee Itagaki

Friday, January 25, 2013

Halloween Candle

Halloween is a holiday that prompts so many people to decorate their homes, and nothing else provides a spookier glow than candles. Sit Halloween-inspired candles from Root Candles on top of your matnel to complement a roaring fire.

Photo courtesy of

With a fragrance reminiscent of crisp fall evenings, the luxurious IllumiNoir Warm Vanilla Hallow’s Eve candle comes in a black matte glass container and is housed in an elegant black box, perfect to give as a gift to fans of Halloween. Root Candles provide a modern twist to the traditional bottle light candle with their Spooky Tree, Autumn Leaves, Halloween’s Eve and Jack-O-Lantern candles scented with mulled cider fragrance. To find the retailer nearest you, visit

By Jennifer Myers

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Meet the Landmark Trust

The Landmark Trust was founded in 1965 to preserve historic architecture in Great Britain. The most important houses and castles tended to be privately owned or managed by the National Trust. There remained, however, much work to be done for the curious and overlooked buildings. It was these minor structures that the Trust set about rescuing. If they disappeared, argued founder Sir John Smith, the most important buildings would look out of place in a perennially modern landscape. Like “a diamond ring in the spaghetti” was his analogy.

To support the society, the buildings were made available as holiday rentals. Today the Trust has a portfolio of some 200 properties. There is something for every taste form stables to prisons to cottages to bathhouses. Advance reservations are required and many properties are booked months in advance.

For more information, contact the Trust for a handbook. The price in North America is $25, which is refundable on the first booking. Contact the American Landmark Trust USA, 707 Kipling Road, Dummerston, VT 05301; (802) 254-6868 or

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Victorian Lifestyle: The English Country House

When imagining the Victorian country house, scenes of lavishly decorated homes accompanied by sprawling, immaculately manicured grounds spring to mind. But this picture of perfection depended upon the tireless work of a vast staff consisting of indoor and outdoor servants—and the authoritative Lady and Lord of the Manor who managed them.

I recently read Oxford Brookes professor Pamela Horn’s book Life in the Victorian Country House, which describes the hierarchical relationship existed between the owners and their servants as well as between the servants themselves. Drawing on her expertise and knowledge as a British social historian, Horn describes how governing a country house was a full-time job for its owners, whose societal reputation often rested upon their estate’s levels of grandeur and general upkeep.

Horn explains that the Lady’s primary domestic duty was to govern the household servants, primarily communicating with the butler and head housekeeper. At the top of the servant pecking order, they would pass on the Lady’s instructions to the rest of the household staff. The butler and head housekeeper’s level of authority was also reflected by sitting at the head of the servants’ dinner table while the rest sat in descending order based on their rank.

While she was busy at home, the Lady’s husband would spend a great deal of time outdoors, overseeing the land and the staff that maintained it. The land came most into use during the hunting season, when they would host large parties—often the most popular social gatherings of the year. 

Another social highlight was the London “season.” This was when the family would travel to London to attend parties and high-society events, often in an attempt to marry off unwed daughters. While some servants accompanied them, for the majority these were times when they were free from the watchful eyes of their employers.

Horn describes how some employers were extremely generous to their employees while others treated them as “part of the furniture.” Some employers left hefty sums in their wills to their most beloved servants, while others instructed their staff never to look directly at them and only communicate with them via the butler.

The author’s detailed descriptions are supplemented with an ample array of quotations, photographs, advertisements and cartoons from the period. For an engaging, inside look at life in a bygone era, Life in the Victorian Country House is not to be missed.

By - Laura Hannam

Life in the Victorian Country House by Pamela Horn, © 2010 Shire Books,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Curious Art of Observation

How do you get your news? In the 19th century, Expositions and World’s Fairs entertained and educated with displays of the new and exotic. Curiosity drew large crowds who were intrigued and inspired as they viewed the latest finds and newest creations. In 1851, Prince Albert’s Great Exposition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park hosted nearly six million people, including such notable and diverse personas as Charles Darwin, Charlotte Bronte and Samuel Colt.

Today, even with the Internet’s world-on-a-screen at our fingertips, our curiosity craves in-person experiences. Recently, a 340-ton boulder drew onlookers for days as it was trucked to its destination at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The space shuttle Discovery’s pre-retirement flight piggybacked on a jet was a thrill to see, now an earthbound exhibit at the Smithsonian.

Many discoveries were made in the Victorian era when science and the arts were commonly practiced, and not the domain of experts. I recently learned about Genevieve Jones, whose desire to document the nests and eggs of American birds became a family project. Gennie’s passion was further inspired when she saw hand-colored engravings from John James Audubon’s book The Birds of America at Philadelphia’s Centennial International Exhibition. Now, a new book, America’s Other Audubon, celebrates the amateur naturalist and shares her notable accomplishments with a 21st-century audience.

To reinterpret or recreate period decor, architectural details and gardenscapes, we Victorian homes enthusiasts must be skilled observers, too.