The Victorian era, which is the period of Queen Victoria’s reign, spans from 1837-1901. The Victorian furniture characteristics of this period have a distinct aesthetic with dark finishes or gilding, embellishments, and heavy proportions.
This period overlapped the Industrial Revolution, making it the first style of furniture manufactured. Also, don’t expect to find any identifying marks on Victorian-era furniture. The furniture that emerged in this period drew heavily from Gothic.
The Victorian Period
Britain was a powerful nation with a rich culture during this period. It had a stable government, a growing state, and an expanding franchise. Also, it controlled a large empire, and it was wealthy. This was partly because of its degree of industrialization and its imperial holdings.
Late in the period, Britain began to decline as a global political and economic power relative to other major powers. Religion, region, and occupation were all meaningful aspects of identity and status. The main organizing principles of Victorian society were gender and class.
The Working Class
The working class, about 70 to 80% of the population, got its income from wages, with family incomes usually under £100 per annum. Many middle-class observers thought that working-class people imitated middle-class people as much as they could.
Much of the furniture that we think of as Victorian may very well have been upper-class or even royal. Yet, there was a lot of furniture during that time. They were similar, yet paired down for the needs of a working-class family.
The 13 Victorian Furniture Characteristics
The Industrial Revolution transformed manufacturing processes and made the middle class more prosperous. Notably, the new wealth required showcasing this new status in homes.
Also, the manufacturing capabilities of the Industrial Revolution caused mass production of Victorian furniture. It was also to fulfill the decorating needs of the newly prosperous.
Direct contact between the individual maker and the purchaser no longer existed. Furniture pieces were crafted by multiple persons rather than a single craftsman creating an entire piece. It eventually cheapened the quality of craftsmanship.
1. Elaborate Ornamentation
Victorian furniture pieces are valuable for their opulence and elegance. During Queen Victoria’s reign, her taste for grandeur shaped the period enormously, and grand and elaborate furniture was in fashion for much of her reign.
Carved wood ran along the top of the couch and chair backs and arms. It’s also on bed frames and dressers. They feature shapely leaves, trailing vines, ribbons and bows that are nice in any master bedroom. Wood might be dark and finished or painted and gold-gilded.
Designers favored foliate motifs for ornamentation. They would incorporate pointed arches, spires, quatrefoils, trefoils, and crockets.
The upholstery used during this time was plush and concentrated on luxurious materials and textures like velvet. The colors used were dark, rich, and lush. It uses different colors of different shades and usually with accented backgrounds.
Upholstered furniture also had tassels and embellishments. In the Rococo revival style, tufting was a popular choice for the upholstery. The pieces were usually curvaceous shapes and rounded corners.
Samuel Pratt patented 1828 the coiled spring for use in upholstery. Also, the upholstery on seats had to be improved in quality to accommodate the springs in chairs. Seats were deeper, making chair legs shorter.
3. Draping Fabrics
During the Victorian age, it became a social norm for people to cover their ankles. So, furniture legs and feet were commonly concealed by draping of fabric.
According to Marryat’s book, “A Diary in America,” it was out of fear that bare legs were provocative. Others argue it was to protect their cherished furniture from being damaged.
Gilding is a decorative technique for applying a thin coating of gold to solid surfaces such as metal (most common), wood, porcelain, or stone. A gilded object is also called “gilt”.
Where metal is gilded, the metal below was traditionally silver. It’s to make silver-gilt (or vermeil) objects. Yet, China commonly uses gilt-bronze. Gilding methods include hand application and gluing, typically of gold leaf, chemical gilding, and electroplating.
Mounting is a term used to describe an ornamental addition to furniture such as bed frames. It’s applied over its main body, which is nice for a primary bedroom. Often, furniture mountings use different materials for the timber beneath, such as brass or ormolu.
The Victorian period used a refined style for furniture mounts. They used keyhole escutcheons (an ornamental shield around a keyhole), hinges, and the like during this time. These were largely based on Chinese models.
Inlay covers a range of techniques in sculpture. It’s the decorative art of inserting pieces of contrasting, often colored materials into depressions in a base object. Mainly, it’s to form ornament or pictures that flush with the matrix.
There’s a great range of material usage for the base or matrix and the inlays inserted into it. An inlay is for the production of decorative furniture. It’s where pieces of colored wood, precious metals, or even diamonds are inserted into the surface of the carcass using various matrices, including clearcoats and varnishes.
7. Walnut and Mahogany
A part of the Victorian age was a Rococo revival. Rosewood and mahogany were favored woods with gold finishes to the furniture. Intricate carvings mark out this style, with woods such as rosewood, oak and walnut used to craft the pieces.
The Victorian settee was a common piece of furniture from this era. It’s similar to a modern loveseat and accommodates two people. Also, it features two armrests with a tufted fabric.
8. Curving Lines
Victorian furniture can often appear quite somber and formal, although with some elaborate details. Couch and chair backs are usually balloon-shaped with curved arms. They are round at the top and taper to the seat. Chair legs can vary and be round, straight, or with multiple turnings.
The seat shape is often curved, horseshoe-shaped with a rounded front, or square. Also, there are horseshoe-shaped seats with a serpentine front. The foot on chairs and other pieces is often a ball and claw design, a small round foot, or a whorl.
9. Floral Patterns
The main characteristics of Victorian furniture can be noticeable in the intricate carvings with natural images like floral patterns. The Art Nouveau came at a much later stage. It was quite similar, making it difficult to judge whether a piece was indeed Victorian or not.
Victorian Furniture uses angular shapes and lines along with the carvings. A Victorian chair or table has a straight shape with curves along the bottom of the sofa below the cushions, the legs of the chair, and the back of the seat.
These pieces also have curved moldings and decorative friezes. The fabrics were dramatic, with florals, nature scenes, and rich patterns.
10. Bulky Proportions
The furniture of this era was with large sideboards, heavy pedestals, and pieces in bulkier proportions. The designs provided balance and character to the decorations of the piece.
Renaissance revival pieces are bold features on heavy pieces of furniture, a contrast to the feminine elegance of the Rococo style. It influenced the Victorian age greatly.
Tassels were ubiquitous in this era, used on curtains, beds, and even as drawer handles on furniture. They flourished and added an extra ornate touch to any piece of furniture. While tassels go back to ancient times, they had a major resurgence throughout various periods, including the early Victorian age.
Approaching the Victorian period, popular magazines began to create trends. It included decorating the ladies’ shoes, sashes, and parasols with miniature tassels.
The craze did not continue very long. It’s because in the early 20th Century, during the Victorian era, they shunned the past. Simple and unadorned aesthetics became fashionable. The use of tassels declined. You might still be able to find furniture with this feature in vintage stores online, but it’s becoming rare.
12. Rich Materials and Colors
Heavy fabrics would often be used, like velvet or leather. Colors were usually rich, dark, and lush. In terms of fabric, braid was popular, as was hair cloth – camel or horse hair – which feels stiff or even coarse to the touch.
Other fabrics to look for include velour, velvet, plush, and tapestry. Tapestry is usually heavier in weight and typically includes intricate patterns or designs. The heavier and richer, the better. It’s a crucial element of Victorian style.
Homes with Victorian furniture used decorative veneers, such as mahogany, either carved wood or curled. Notably, they glue these decorative pieces of wood to more stable wood for a stunning and durable finish.
When shopping for Victorian-style furniture, check that the veneer is in good condition. It should have no peeling, bubbling, or loss, as it can be expensive to repair. The clean Grecian lines of the Regency period were out of favor by 1835. Everyone wanted furniture that was showier with plenty of curves.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Features of Victorian Furniture?
Victorian furniture has ornate and elaborate designs. Its usual features include intricate carvings. Heavy use of dark woods like mahogany and walnut is also one of its characteristics.
What Is Victorian Furniture Made Of?
Victorian furniture is made of solid, high-quality woods such as rosewood and oak. These woods are often richly stained or finished to enhance their natural beauty. Besides wood, Victorian furniture may have materials like velvet and silk.
How Can You Tell Victorian Furniture From Other Types?
I can tell it’s Victorian furniture by examining its distinctive characteristics. I usually look for ornate carvings, intricate detailing, and opulence in the design. The use of dark, rich woods and luxurious upholstery materials is also a telltale sign.
The Victorian furniture characteristics is an all-encompassing genre. This furniture type remains widely popular today and has enjoyed longevity through its influences in 20th-century design. For instance, Chesterfield sofas are a staple of Victorian design. They’re unarguably more popular in the 21st century than ever.