Although vastly different from the Scandinavian and minimalist design trends that have dominated the past decade, Victorian design and decor aesthetic has consistently remained a well-loved, if ornamental, style since its inception in the 1830s during the reign of Queen Victoria.
According to Mona Ying Reeves, Founder and Designer at Re:modern, a design firm in San Francisco, interior spaces from the original Victorian era were characterized by an exuberance of ornamentation, historical influences, and handicraft—all of which can be easily adapted to the current design aesthetic—which is why the style remains relevant as trends and tastes change.
Traditional Victorian spaces tend to be compartmentalized and often dark, which lends to them feeling cramped and outdated but the good news is that there are some easy ways to bring a Victorian sensibility into modern decor today. We spoke to experts about how to embrace a modern Victorian aesthetic in your home.
Meet the Expert
- Monica Ying Reeves is the Founder and Designer at Re:modern, a design firm in San Francisco.
- Andre Kazimierski is the CEO of Improovy, a home services company.
- Juan Sandiego is the Founder of Boreal Abode, an interior decorating and styling company.
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Focus on Craft
While most of us don't have time to hand-embroider textiles or crochet doilies like they did back in the 18th century, we can still infuse a high level of craft into the decor, says Ying Reeves. Look for decorative elements that use today's artistry or technology in an ornamental way. Examples of this might include laser-cut textiles or artisan made furniture. The idea is to steer clear of mass-produced finishes and furnishings in favor of the well-crafted.Continue to 2 of 27 below.
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Pair Ornamentation with Simplicity
Love all the lace, toile, and gilded finishes of an old Victorian? Show them off as treasured artifacts by placing them alongside simple, clean elements. “The contrast between the traditional ornamentation against a more neutral backdrop will make the style feel more fresh and modern,” explains Ying Reeves.Continue to 3 of 27 below.
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“Victorian spaces were often filled with collections of the eclectic,” says Ying Reeves. “Bring this idea into the modern era by mixing up scales.” You could pair an oversized pendant lamp with intricate wallpaper, or opt for an oversized statement sofa in a small living room. Exaggerating scales will help make spaces feel more modern, while contributing to a sense of delight that is consistent to the Victorian aesthetic.Continue to 4 of 27 below.
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Include Your Own Personal Style
Creating the perfect modern Victorian home is all about incorporating your own personal style with both Victorian and modern styles in a way that feels like it represents your personality. “There really isn’t a wrong way to do Victorian style as long as you mix both Victorian and modern styles together in a way that you actually like,” shares Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy.Continue to 5 of 27 below.
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Place Emphasis on Good Bones
“Typically, modern Victorian style starts with the base of an older Victorian-style home,” says Kazimierski. “Keep the framework and wood stylings but add in some modern decor pieces.” Don’t have a Victorian home? You can still emulate the feeling of “good bones” by trying to keep your modern pieces more neutral in color so that they don’t make the room appear too busy. Any wood should be a darker or richer stain, and marble can be a great touch.Continue to 6 of 27 below.
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Go for Bold Colors
“Victorian style also typically includes more color than modern styles, so consider painting your room a rich, darker color,” says Kazimierski. “Some of the best options are burgundy, navy, olive green or mustard.”Continue to 7 of 27 below.
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Your alcoves and other nooks and crannies are not symmetrical as, by design, there’s typically always one wider than the other. Instead, Juan Sandiego, Founder of Boreal Abode, suggests you try and play with asymmetry and decorate each alcove or nook differently. Tie the spaces together by using common colors, materials or shapes.Continue to 8 of 27 below.
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Hide the Clutter Away (or Embrace It)
There are two types of storage and you need to use both for the perfect balance, says Sandiego. First, you have hidden storage, such as cabinets, to store all the unsightly clutter items you don’t need to see. Second, there’s styling storage, such as carefully curated shelves, whose main purpose is to display the objects you love and make you happy.Continue to 9 of 27 below.
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Draw the Eye Down to the Floor
Dramatic flooring is key to getting modern Victorian style down. Consider a bold tile or dark hued flooring for maximum effect. If you’re renting or looking for a lower commitment solution, opt for a dramatic carpet or animal-printed rug.Continue to 10 of 27 below.
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Appreciate the Negative Spaces
“The biggest mistake I see people doing is packing every surface and spare gap with stuff,” says Sandiego. “You need negative space to allow the space to breathe (visually, that is).” Negative space is the area on the walls and surfaces where there is nothing and the eye can rest.Continue to 11 of 27 below.
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Restore Existing Features
If you have a Victorian home you know it will be bursting with original features. Instead of removing these, restore them. You can easily showcase assets in your home, including radiators and fireplaces. Whether they're in working condition or not these original features can offer a built-in element of design and visual interest.Continue to 12 of 27 below.
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Splurge on Luxurious Lighting
Modern Victorian style places major emphasis on luxurious lighting and offers a great opportunity to select bold and luxurious fixtures that will draw the eye upwards. That said, think of the lighting in your space as jewelry: you want each fixture to complement the other without overwhelming the space or competing with each other.Continue to 13 of 27 below.
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Bring Outdoor Elements Inside
Gardening and landscaping is a huge aspect of Victorian style, but if you don’t have an outdoor space to work with you can always bring outdoor elements inside. Consider curating a selection of dried flowers—not only do they suit the aesthetic but they also last weeks (if not months) longer than fresh flowers.Continue to 14 of 27 below.
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Consider combining the original structure and personality of your home with more modern features, such as wall panelling or colorblocking. Colorblocking the space above or below existing features will be an easy and inexpensive way to add interest to your space. This type of treatment will not only make a statement to guests but will also draw the eye upwards, making your high ceilings appear even taller.Continue to 15 of 27 below.
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Place Emphasis on Bay Windows
A common feature of most Victorian homes is bay windows, says Richard Petrie, Director of Marketing at Thomas Sanderson, a company specializing in window treatments. Not only are they a beautiful feature in any room but they also have extra windows and angles meaning you can make a statement with the window furnishings you choose to hang.Continue to 16 of 27 below.
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… Or Opt for Shutters
“Shutters are the perfect addition to any bay window, as they appear neat and tidy with adjustable louvres,” Petrie explains. “Shutters have many practical elements such as temperature and light control; however you can still throw them open to take advantage of your large Victorian windows.” If your home doesn’t have bay windows, consider adding shutter-style double doors to an entryway for an equally dramatic effect.Continue to 17 of 27 below.
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Go for Eye-Catching Upholstery
Creating a sense of drama is essential in any Victorian, says Sean O'Brien, Chief Marketing Officer at Modloft. Sleek minimalist lounge chairs combined with tufted and fringed upholstered sofas create an eye-catching contrast for a modern Victorian style.Continue to 18 of 27 below.
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Don’t Forgo Mirrors
“The simplicity of mono-toned mid-century mirrors complements Victorian-style wallpapers' intricate (and often brightly colored) floral patterns,” says O’Brien. Consider adding mirrors in place of larger wall art for a dramatic and light-catching feature.Continue to 19 of 27 below.
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Opt for Nature-Inspired Accessories
According to O’Brien, a modern table lamp with a natural wood base or natural fiber accessories gives the nod to the Victorians' love of nature. Placed in an eye-catching spot in the room, nature-inspired accessories will make a statement in any room in the house.Continue to 20 of 27 below.
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Incorporate Luxe Fabrics
Modern Victorian decor doesn’t have to stay in the dark and overly dramatic realm. If you’re keen to add a pop of the aesthetic into your existing space, consider incorporating luxurious fabrics and drapery. A flowing table cloth or textured curtains will offer the same effect without flowing into gothic territory.Continue to 21 of 27 below.
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Work with What You Have
Consider making note of which colors and patterns speak to you as well as what could honestly work in the space you're decorating before getting started. Do you have room for large curtains? Do you already have a fireplace mantle? The key here is to be honest about what you're working with and working toward enhancing those features —rather than trying to force it or cramming too many details into a small space.Continue to 22 of 27 below.
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Consider Large Scale Artwork
Forging a sense of drama is key to emulating a modern Victorian aesthetic and large scale artwork is one of the easiest ways to do so (even if you’re working with a smaller space). Going for larger artwork than you think you have space for will draw the eye up to the ceiling and actually make the room feel more grand.Continue to 23 of 27 below.
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Although Victorian style was not necessarily revered for its coziness, it was particularly well-loved for its use of plush fabrics and textures. You can easily replicate the richness of drapery with a selection of decorative pillows and throw blankets.Continue to 24 of 27 below.
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Embrace the Art of Artifacts
The best part of curating a modern Victorian living space? Getting to display more whimsical decor pieces like animal bones, dramatic busts, and even gold toned cranes. You’ll find a whole lot of more whimsical pieces at thrift shops and antique stores but make sure your pieces all follow a theme or it could come off as overly busy.Continue to 25 of 27 below.
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Consider a Bold Wall Treatment
Always wanted to put up a loud wallpaper? Curious to test out a board and batten treatment? The beauty of modern Victorian decor is that you can get away with a beyond-bold wall treatment—just make sure to keep the rest of your furniture and accessories on the neutral side so as to not overwhelm the space.Continue to 26 of 27 below.
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Create an Ornate Gallery Wall
A gallery wall is a great way to add visual interest to a blank wall in your space—but is particularly interesting in terms of modern Victorian aesthetic. Consider picking up a curation of ornate frames from thrift shops and antique stores and filling them with your most whimsical photography and artwork for maximum effect.Continue to 27 of 27 below.
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Take Advantage of Candle Light
Candle light is the unsung hero of dramatic interior decor—not only is it basically free (depending on your brand of choice) but it also changes the feeling of the space in an instant. Pillar candles and candlesticks are going to be your best bet for achieving dramatic light flickers but consider mixing and matching different sizes and styles for the best outcome.