How To Design A Victorian Living Room

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If the words “Victorian décor” bring to mind the Addams Family home or your Great-Aunt Gertrude, think again. Victorian decorating doesn’t have to be dark, stuffy and overly cluttered. You can create a beautiful, Victorian-themed living room, yet still have a welcoming, fresh and appealing style. The trick is to soften the Victorian tendency toward excess and not cross the line into overabundance.

Planning Your Color Scheme

The Victorian era was one of saturated colors, particularly:

  • Deep green
  • Purple
  • Red
  • Burgundy
  • Pink
  • Mauve

Dark wooden furniture combined with heavily draped windows added to the lack of light. Avoid a claustrophobic feeling in your contemporary Victorian living room by using lighter hues of the Victorian favorites on the walls and furnishings, but maintaining the traditional dark tones for accent pieces. Soft gray and cream are also good choices to lighten up the heavy palette.

Your Living Room Walls, Floor And Windows

A traditional Victorian living room would have had walls papered with a large, dark pattern, an ornate area rug on the floor and fussy, heavy curtains on the windows. Keep the spirit of the style without the excess by toning down the details.

  • Lighten up your walls with cream or rosy pink paint. Crown moldings are a very Victorian touch; and you can even install molding yourself using peel-and-stick products available at home improvement centers. If you want to use wallpaper, look for a floral, tone-on-tone stripe or classic geometric pattern, but stay with smaller designs, softer colors or a generally less busy pattern. You can also wallpaper just the bottom half of the walls, paint the upper half and separate the two with a wooden chair rail running the length of the room.
  • Whether your floors are wood, laminate, carpet or tile, lay down an area rug to cover a large portion of the floor. The Victorians loved Oriental rugs with elaborate patterns, and by keeping the rest of your room toned down, you can follow their lead. Choose a rug to play up your color theme, and feel free to mix patterns with wallpaper or other room furnishings. A variety of patterns in one room is a hallmark of Victorian style and won’t clash if you tie them together with a complementary color scheme.
  • Your windows should be covered with drapes, not blinds or shutters, but that doesn’t mean you need to go crazy with ruffles, tassels and pleats. Keep the Victorian feel without the excess by using rich fabrics in deep colors for your drapes, and consider a touch of lace trim or valance. However, watch out for excessive trim that can make your room look fussy instead of attractive.

Choosing The Furniture

The traditional Victorian sitting room was filled with dark, ornately designed, overstuffed furniture. Marble or wrought iron accents were popular, and the overall look was heavy and formal. Most homeowners today want a lighter, more cheerful and open feel to their living room, as well as a style that works well with a busy lifestyle, children, pets and less time to spend cleaning.

  • Keep the Victorian flavor without the oppressive taste by choosing furniture that has curved, decorative lines, but is lighter in color. You can go as far as stripping dark finish or paint from a Victorian piece, then painting it white or a jewel-tone favorite from the Victorian palette for a modern take on turn-of-the-19th century sensibilities.
  • When picking a couch, look for heavily stuffed, comfortable and durable pieces that will stand up to daily life, yet still keep the style. A wood framed sofa with microfiber, chenille or other fabrics that look luxurious replicate the Victorian fondness for velvet upholstery but will last longer. Your living room should have one or two comfortable armchairs for additional seating, with upholstery that complements, not necessarily matches, the couch.
  • Go a little more ornate with your coffee table, choosing carved, ball or lion-footed table legs, decorative touches along the edges and perhaps a glass top to lighten up the look. One or two smaller end tables are great for setting down a drink, holding a lamp or displaying a collection of antique ceramic dogs.
  • A china hutch, armoire or shelving unit will serve to display your collectibles, as well as hold books, electronic devices and other family gear. Furniture with drawers or a closed cabinet on the bottom, open shelves or glass-door cabinets on top let you hide clutter, yet still display prized possessions.

Have Fun With Accessories

Once you have your furniture in place, you can have fun and really set a Victorian style with your accessories. Your first need is good lighting, and you can stay with the theme by looking for Tiffany lamps, classic Greek or Roman designs, elaborate metal or ceramic lamps and lampshades with plenty of trim. Have at least one lamp near the couch and another lamp near other seating areas.

Other Victorian touches include:

  • Collections of antique china, animal figurines or photographs set on top of a lace doily for display
  • Boston ferns or snake plants
  • Velvet or needlepoint throw pillows
  • Classic statues or busts
  • Old globes or maps
  • Grandfather clock
  • Ornately framed mirrors
  • Candles

A Victorian-themed living room can be wonderfully nostalgic and comfortable. Avoid a claustrophobic feeling by staying with the basic Victorian design, while lightening it up for today’s lifestyles.

Last Updated: September 2, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening and home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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