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How To Make Victorian Style Accessible

With today’s casual decorating style, it’s hard for most of us to imagine living in over-the-top, ornate Victorian homes of a bygone era. Yet, the Victorian influence is still all around us; every time you see a festooned drapery, balloon shades, swaps, and passementerie (fringe, tassels and ropes) you can thank the Victorians.

You’re probably wondering what brought on my reminiscing of the Victorian era. Fair question. I was in Newport, Rhode Island over the weekend and did the customary tours of the great mansions. I’d never been to Newport before but my mom would always talk about the Victorian mansions there. Of course, I remember The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford and seeing the exquisite Rosecliff in the backdrop.

As you can imagine, I love house tours and Newport was definitely on my bucket list. It did not disappoint! We toured The Breakers and Marble House, which were built by two of the Vanderbilt brothers and The Elms. Each were stunning in their own way.

Below left: The Elms; below center, The Breakers and below right, Marble House.

  1. The Elms – It was awesome to see silk bedding used by Marie Antoinette and the many, many bedrooms. But the most impressive thing for me, aside from the endless walls of art, was the two-story butler’s pantry that housed a variety of china services for endless entertainment.

  2. The Breakers – The most ostentatious of Newport’s mansions, considered summer “cottages” during their heyday. There were rows and rows of portraits and tapestries. In contrast to The Elms and Marble House, the bedrooms were sparse.

  3. The Marble House – Wow, did this live up to its name! Marble from floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall in all the public rooms. Imagine chair rails, crown, door and window moldings carved in marble. It was beautiful; one piece more stunning than the next.

As I said earlier, elements of Victorian style continue to show up in today’s designs. The Victorians, among other things, gave us, damask wallpaper and fabrics; rock crystal chandeliers, marble anything, mythic motifs and statues.

If you love the Victorian style but don’t necessarily have the budget to incorporate all its opulent elements take a page from one of my clients. She loves Victorian design and has creatively incorporated many of its elements on a budget; the only non-Victorian thing about her home.

Let’s start in Marsha’s living room. She has hung portraits on her walls, a distinct element of Victorian design. Paired with ornate furniture, festooned curtains and swag valances with plaid ribbon and rope are part of the room’s Victorian flair. Rounding off the room is textured wall paper, beautiful ceramic vases and busts.

Getting the look and feel of Victorian style with furniture can be pricey; that’s where Custom Alley Slipcovers can help. Marsha’s vision was to use a few different patterns and mix them between the pieces. The colorful toile on the rattan loveseat depicting scenes from the 18th century French court is soooooo Victorian. The floral print is a natural choice, too. So, we set out to slipcover all three pieces, and add a mix of pillows to finish it off.

In the dining room, we made a relaxed roman shade, which creates a gentle swag on the large window. We added layers, with drapery and valances. The faux painting on the walls and radiator add texture. There’s a beautiful ceramic bust and flowers everywhere.

I’ve worked for many years in Marsha’s home, gosh she’s been my friend for 36 years! It's always an adventure. These two rooms are only the beginning of Marsha’s signature, throughout her house, and the result would make any Victorian proud, and a little jealous.

For more picture of Marsha’s house, check out my project on HOUZZ.

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