The Art of De­sign


Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Jil­lian Chap­man

Dis­cover how to in­fuse per­son­al­ity into your home.

In­te­rior de­sign is an art form, not a sci­ence. It’s an ever-evolv­ing field that is in­flu­enced by each de­signer’s per­sonal touches.

In her book, Be Your Own Dec­o­ra­tor, Su­sanna Salk en­cour­ages read­ers to not feel con­stricted but to look out­side the box and within your­self for in­spi­ra­tion. “Rooms that res­onate with per­son­al­ity—not rules— are the ones you’ll want to linger in and sa­vor,” Salk writes.

Be Your Own Dec­o­ra­tor walks through a va­ri­ety of sub­jects to con­sider when dec­o­rat­ing your home. Salk nar­rates work done by a col­lec­tion of pro­fes­sional in­te­rior de­sign­ers, cat­e­go­riz­ing im­ages of uniquely-de­signed rooms and cap­tion­ing each with a fun and in­form­ing glance into the way the de­sign was achieved. The struc­ture of this book al­lows you to be em­pow­ered and cre­ate your own de­sign ideas while pulling from the tips of pro­fes­sion­als.

Salk will take you on a jour­ney through the gen­res of color, mix­ing, ar­range­ment, bal­ance, whimsy, ac­ces­soriz­ing and the ever-im­por­tant rule break­ing. Vic­to­rian de­sign has al­ways cen­tered on some of th­ese same cat­e­gories. Su­sanna Salk’s book will suc­cess­fully guide the Vic­to­rian en­thu­si­ast in choos­ing in­te­rior col­ors, mix­ing and match­ing ac­ces­sories, and in­spire you to get cre­ative de­sign into a space you love.


Color schemes evolved through­out the Vic­to­rian era as the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion took hold. Pop­u­lar de­sign be­gan with muted, earthy tones painters could mix on site, such as beige, taupe and ecru. Once the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion spread, bold col­ors be­came more read­ily avail­able and Vic­to­rian homes be­came a lot more col­or­ful; for ex­am­ple, the famed “painted ladies” of San Fran­cisco have bright yel­low, or­ange, choco­late, blue and red. Be Your Own Dec­o­ra­tor de­scribes many dif­fer­ent uses of color, one of which is its abil­ity to cre­ate an in­tense feel­ing of lux­ury. Vic­to­rian in­te­rior de­sign was of­ten focused on this same idea of dis­play­ing home­own­ers’ newly-gained wealth, yet also be­ing cost ef­fec­tive. Salk de­scribes in­te­rior de­signer Alexa Hamp­ton’s use of dif­fer­ing hues and pat­terns of yel­low to induce a feel­ing of ex­trav­a­gance.

In de­signer Diane Berg­eron’s fea­tured bed­room, she uses a sur­pris­ing color com­bi­na­tion of gray and or­ange, stat­ing, “Don’t be afraid to use color, as you can see it does not de­tract from the room’s ul­ti­mate so­phis­ti­ca­tion.” In the same way, Vic­to­rian-era de­signs evolved and weren’t afraid to use poly­chro­matic color schemes on the in­side and out­side of homes.

The use of color to fit the needs of a room is an im­por­tant as­pect of de­sign­ing. Alessan­dra Branca uses an un­ex­pected com­bi­na­tion of mas­cu­line brown and fem­i­nine pink to cre­ate a room that’s pleas­ing to both male and fe­male oc­cu­pants. Vic­to­rian-era homes also uti­lized color in this way by con­sid­er­ing the de­sired func­tion of pub­lic rooms. Air­borne soot was an is­sue in pub­lic spa­ces, so painters of­ten used darker col­ors in rooms like the par­lor to help con­ceal the dirt that even­tu­ally set­tled on the walls from vis­i­tors en­ter­ing the home.

In Be Your Own Dec­o­ra­tor, Salk states, “Pic­tures can be hung and stacked on a va­ri­ety of lev­els and sur­faces all at once.” This spirit of the ar­range­ment of dé­cor is a de­sign as­pect that was very im­por­tant to the Vic­to­rian era. Dec­o­ra­tion was a sym­bol of so­cial class, there­fore a bare room was con­sid­ered to be in poor taste. This ide­ol­ogy re­sulted in the goal of Vic­to­rian dé­cor to be a show of abun­dance, with rooms cov­ered from ceil­ing to floor with or­na­men­ta­tion. Sim­i­lar to the Vic­to­ri­ans’ use of ar­range­ment to show sta­tus, Salk de­scribes de­signer Matthew Pa­trick Smyth’s ar­range­ment as “an elo­quent ex­am­ple of how ev­ery nook in a house can go far in ex­press­ing its owner’s spirit.”


The Vic­to­rian de­sire for abun­dance cre­ated a need for achiev­ing the right bal­ance be­tween color and tex­ture to keep a room from feel­ing over­whelm­ing. De­signer Ryan Kor­ban uti­lized bal­ance for the same pur­pose by lay­er­ing lux­u­ri­ous tex­tures and strong vi­su­als against an all-white pal­ette. “A syn­ergy be­tween the two pairs of art­work con­tains their shock value just enough to al­low them to be ap­pre­ci­ated on an ev­ery­day ba­sis,” Salk writes.

Vic­to­rian in­te­rior de­sign was of­ten focused on this same idea of dis­play­ing home­own­ers’ newly-gained wealth.

An­other el­e­ment of de­sign Salk dis­cusses is the use of wall­pa­per. “Us­ing whim­si­cal wall­pa­per in small spa­ces expands the room’s mood,” she writes. De­signer Alan Marks’ use of a cus­tom fish-pat­terned wall­pa­per can in­spire the cre­ative minds of Vic­to­rian de­sign­ers to go bold with your wall­pa­per. Thom Feli­cia con­tin­ues with this whim­si­cal de­sign trend by pair­ing a batik bed­spread and cur­tains with highly con­trast­ing pat­terns to form an ex­otic and or­na­men­tal bed­room de­sign.

In Be Your Own Dec­o­ra­tor, Vic­to­ria Smith de­scribes her love for col­lect­ing vin­tage pieces from dif­fer­ent gen­res and eras, and mix­ing them to cre­ate an eclec­tic space that is re­flec­tive of her per­sonal style. In a dé­cor style that blends many di­verse cul­tural sources, bal­ance be­comes even more im­por­tant to achieve a har­mo­nious space.

Salk’s book con­cludes with the no­tion of rule-break­ing. Noth­ing makes a space more per­sonal than throw­ing the rules out the window and go­ing with your in­stinct. De­sign­ers through­out Salk’s book sub­scribe to this be­lief and de­sign in ways that speak to them, re­gard­less of pre­con­ceived no­tions of de­sign ex­pec­ta­tions. For ex­am­ple, Linda Ze­lenko and Steo­hen Pis­cuskas com­bine con­trast­ing themes of coun­try liv­ing and city sleek­ness to cre­ate an el­e­gant ex­ten­sion of the coun­try­side in their liv­ing room. Rule-break­ing is an im­por­tant con­cept to re­mem­ber when fo­cus­ing on your own Vic­to­rian dé­cor. The Vic­to­rian era of­ten used seem­ingly er­ro­neous de­sign styles with their eclec­tic ac­ces­sories cover­ing en­tire walls, the use of con­trast­ing col­ors and the com­bi­na­tion of dif­fer­ent cul­tural styles. Over­all, don’t be afraid to shy away from the con­ven­tional and go with what you think is best for your Vic­to­rian home.

Su­sanna Salk’s Be Your Own Dec­o­ra­tor pro­vides a won­der­ful ref­er­ence for any novice de­signer. She draws from a wealth of knowl­edge with the in­put of over 50 in­te­rior de­sign pro­fes­sion­als. She suc­cess­fully in­tro­duces im­por­tant as­pects of de­sign such as color, ar­range­ment, ac­ces­soriz­ing and more to give read­ers a sound foun­da­tion on which to build their con­fi­dence as a de­signer and be­gin their own jour­ney in cre­at­ing a home mod­eled af­ter their per­sonal style.

Vic­to­rian-era de­signs evolved and weren’t afraid to use poly­chro­matic color schemes on the in­side and out­side of homes.

Left. De­signer Stephen Shubel ex­panded the pro­por­tions of this room by us­ing an all-white back­ground and wall-to-wall tex­tu­ral sea grass. Stephen writes that “the old-world chan­de­liers keep the his­tor­i­cal in­tegrity so you never for­get your sense of...

Left. On par with the au­thor's de­sire to in­clude per­sonal touches, de­signer Char­lotte Moss cre­ates a room uniquely hers by hang­ing por­traits of women she ad­mires for con­stant in­spi­ra­tion. An ar­range­ment based on emo­tion as well as dec­o­ra­tion can be...

Above Right. In the ar­range­ment sec­tion of Bey­our Own Dec­o­ra­tor, de­signer Mary Mcdon­ald uses dar­ing choices to make an im­me­di­ate style state­ment. Mcdon­ald first painted cherry blos­soms across the blue color she chose for her of­fice, then lay­ered her...

Be Your Own Dec­o­ra­tor: Tak­ing In­spi­ra­tion and Cues From To­day's Top De­sign­ers by Su­sanna Salk, pub­lished by Riz­zoli In­ter­na­tional Pub­li­ca­tions, Inc., © 2012; riz­

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