Ornate brass mirrors, upholstered settees, and glistening chandeliers are all key elements of Victorian interior design that remain popular in today's homes. However, while decorating in the Victorian style, it can oftentimes be difficult to ensure that one's space retains a contemporary aesthetic while paying homage to this magnificent era. After all, too many antique pieces can accidentally convey a stuffy, dated feel, which should be avoided at all costs.
What Is Victorian Style?
Victorian style is opulent, ornamental, and highly decorative. Present in the United Kingdom in the mid- to late-1800s, it was meant to signify the status and wealth of the household.
We spoke with top interior designers who shared their tips for making a Victorian inspired space look nice and sophisticated, not stuffy.
Meet the Expert
- Kevin O'Gara is the Atlanta-based blogger and designer behind Kevin Francis Design.
- Kim Armstrong is an award-winning interior designer at Kim Armstrong Interior Design.
- Mark Culter is an interior designer at Culter Schulze.
- Charmaine Wynter is an award-winning interior designer at Charmaine Wynter Interiors.
- Alessandra Wood is the VP of style at Modsy.
Choose Your Colors Wisely
While Victorian style is known for its deep hues, sometimes more subdued choices are key when it comes to choosing colors to work with in a mod space. "Victorian style is traditionally very detailed (think: intricate woodwork and floral wallpaper), so contrasting these elements with clean lines, simple silhouettes, and light colors like pastels can give the style the breathing room to really be appreciated," designer Kevin O'Gara states. "Establishing a simpler color palette, like a tone-on-tone look, can also help the style ease more gently into a contemporary home."
Don't Be Afraid to Reupholster
Perhaps you've secured a beautiful settee or accent chair with a Victorian style frame but are looking for a way to better introduce the piece to the 21st century. Go ahead and reupholster it, designer Kim Armstrong suggests. "I like the idea of finding an antique chair and putting a wild modern print, that is a real juxtaposition, against the frame," she comments. Not sure where to begin? "Try a heavy weight linen, or a modern stripe, to give a twist to your antique pieces," suggests designer Mark Cutler. Of course, you can choose to paint your chair's frame in a bright color if you wish, too, notes Cutler. "This will give you that elegant form that the style is so known for but a fresh and more punchy feel."
Heading to the antique store? When purchasing furniture, think petite, designer Charmaine Wynter advises. "Furniture was smaller in the Victorian era, so purchase lower scaled furniture and maximize the visual height in your space as much as possible by taking drapery to the ceiling to emphasize the contrast," she says.
Curate Your Collections
Tone down your accent pieces to make your Victorian-inspired space appear a bit more current, Alessandra Wood, VP of style at Modsy suggests. "While Victorians famously loved bric-a-brac and a maximalist vibe, you can make your home feel more modern by editing your decorative pieces," she says. "No need to show your entire collection of thimbles in your living room, rather choose a few of your favorite accents and curate them on surfaces."
And when you are shopping for accessories to display, lean current—these finds will pair wonderfully with more traditional furnishings. "For wood pieces, you can incorporate modern accessories such as lighting, vases, crystals, and coffee table books so the styling feels more modern," Wood shares.
Have Fun With Wallpaper
Designers are all for incorporating wallpaper into Victorian style spaces. "Upholstered walls were common during that time frame, so consider applying wallpaper that has the appearance of fabric or texture to your walls," Wynter comments. When it comes to specific styles to choose from, Armstrong is full of ideas. "Nina Campbell, Cole and Sons, Pierre Frey, Schumacher, Scalamandre, or Quadrille are great places to start your search for some sassy wallpaper that can break out of the Victorian feel and bring in personality and style of today with fresh pattern and color," she shares.
Renting? Opt for removable wallpaper that conveys a similar feel and go to town covering those boring, builder grade walls guilt-free!
Display Furnishings in a Mod Space
Yes, you can totally live in a brand new space and still successfully embrace Victorian style. In fact, if your home already errs on the modern side, introducing Victorian furniture will make for a major contrast—in a good way! "Victorian interiors were full of lots of architectural elements and sumptuous amounts of detail," Cutler reflects. "How about placing your Victorian furniture pieces in a modern clean white box of a room? The stark contrast will give them a whole new moment."