De­sign­ing Deca­dence


Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Tonika Reed

Weav­ing to­gether ab­sence and el­e­gance into the story of your Vic­to­rian home

In Sara Ruf­fin Costello’s book About Dec­o­rat­ing: The Re­mark­able Rooms of Richard Keith Lang­ham, read­ers get snap­shots of a his­toric de­signer

who loved to pair the el­e­gance of the Vic­to­rian past with the com­fort and co­zi­ness of our present day. Chron­i­cling the fabulous life and de­sign­ing times of Richard Keith Lang­ham, Costello echoes the idea of “dream­ing up a room and adding each el­e­ment piece by piece to achieve a fin­ished re­sult that has per­son­al­ity, suit­abil­ity and depth.” While learn­ing about Lang­ham, you can gain a sense of what it takes to in­vite true el­e­ments of story and luxe de­sign into your Vic­to­rian home.


Lang­ham once said, “Be­ing brought up in the South taught me some­thing from my very be­gin­nings, some­thing that can­not be learned—a rev­er­ence for home and a pride in our houses, hospi­tal­ity that is in our DNA.” The South­ern hospi­tal­ity that spans gen­er­a­tions is what pro­pelled Lang­ham to use tra­di­tional and his­toric el­e­ments in his de­signs.

In the chap­ter “Time Re­gained,” Costello out­lines a fam­ily whose home was bru­tally de­stroyed in a hur­ri­cane. While re­build­ing, the wife wanted to pre­serve the his­toric parts of the home, whereas her hus­band wanted a more mod­ern feel. Costello notes that with Lang­ham’s help, they were able to re­build on com­mon ground. “In the end, they both tri­umphed.” Lang­ham and his team “in­tro­duced taller ceil­ings, a grander en­trance hall and a light-filled gallery/hall­way that con­nects the house end to end.” By the end of this restora­tion, Lang­ham “was al­most as emo­tion­ally con­nected to th­ese rooms as his clients were.” This emo­tional bond we have with our homes can help us cre­ate spa­ces with a liv­ing story that is both invit­ing to oth­ers and comforting to our souls. By us­ing the true and in­her­ent ground­work of what ex­isted be­fore, you can re­store your Vic­to­rian home with love and grace.


El­e­gance, grace and true Vic­to­rian style are es­pe­cially what Lang­ham sought while de­sign­ing a friend’s bach­e­lorette res­i­dence. As a di­vorced, newly-un­mar­ried woman, this bach­e­lorette had a lot of clut­ter to dis­card, so “Lang­ham sought out shapes that would en­gage with all the neg­a­tive space, in­sist­ing, ‘Ev­ery sil­hou­ette counts in a vol­u­met­ric room!’” By em­ploy­ing a de­sign el­e­ment that is not even there, you can truly trans­form your liv­ing space. Fo­cal­ize and frame a sin­gle de­sign el­e­ment, like a paint­ing, rug or vase to help a space ex­ude har­mony and peace­ful­ness.

To cre­ate more room in the bach­e­lorette’s home, Lang­ham “made the bru­tal cut” of throw­ing out a “gilded Ré­gence com­mode, Ja­cob oval-back chairs and a pair of fruit­wood Rus­sian bergères with grif­fin arm sup­ports.” Do­ing so cre­ated more space for the bach­e­lorette to com­fort­ably move, live and breathe in her home. “Over­all, the ef­fect is of a glam­orous, icy aerie warmed up by a culled col­lec­tion of good art and an­tiques—the ideal back­drop for a sim­ple din­ner by the fire or cock­tails for sixty.” When restor­ing your Vic­to­rian home, get rid of clut­ter and lightly frame a long hall­way with a state­ment Per­sian rug or hang a tra­di­tional Vic­to­rian print like Ed­win Land­seer’s Monarch of the Glen in your din­ing room as a cen­ter­piece.


Lang­ham’s con­sis­tent use of Vic­to­rian el­e­ments in his re­design demon­strates that it can be sim­ple to use his­toric trea­sures when re­design­ing or restor­ing your home. “Tone for tone, the dec­o­ra­tions can echo the turnof-the-cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture in a splen­did show of pageantry.” Lang­ham’s de­signs fea­ture high-vaulted ceil­ings, large op­u­lent mir­rors, deca­dent col­umns and clear crys­tal hang­ing chan­de­liers. A learned and well-trained de­signer, Lang­ham is also a won­der­ful sto­ry­teller. Costello writes, “Here he is dis­ci­plined in the con­cept of non­cha­lance, a dec­o­rat­ing phi­los­o­phy that pro­duced ex­trav­a­gantly luxe yet lived-in look­ing rooms seem­ing to have been passed down from one blue-blooded gen­er­a­tion to the next.”

Through his time at the Fash­ion In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and ap­pren­tic­ing with Mark Hamp­ton, Lang­ham learned a very im­por­tant les­son that all home­own­ers and de­sign­ers should think about be­fore mov­ing for­ward with a to­tal home restora­tion. “Any­one can say what they don’t like about a room, but it’s much more use­ful to iden­tify what you do like.” Con­sider the blue­print when you go about your home restora­tion. Lang­ham elab­o­rates, say­ing, “Weav­ing cul­tures to­gether, the house has all the ex­ot­ica—his­tory, mys­tery, beads and bour­bon—that right­fully be­long.” A true Vic­to­rian home has a rich in­her­ent his­tory and “an el­e­gant kind of deca­dence—toss­ing mink throws on arm­chairs and plac­ing de­canters and sil­ver ice buck­ets at arm’s reach—can en­sure there is al­ways somewhere cozy to sit and some­thing cold to drink.”

The South­ern hospi­tal­ity that spans gen­er­a­tions is what pro­pelled Lang­ham to use tra­di­tional and his­toric el­e­ments in his de­signs.

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