Architectural advances abounded during the prolific preVictorian timeframe. Spencer-churchill details the transition from early to late Georgian design. She also highlights the work of pioneering Georgian artisans such as Robert Adam, “the leading exponent” of Neoclassicism. Chronologically, Victorian and Georgian timeframes begin to intersect around the turn of the 19th century, as the term Victorian often extends to the years preceding and following Victoria’s reign. Thus, the first 30 years of the Victorian era (1800-1830) are also described as late Georgian, resulting in some overlap.
One commonality between late Georgian and early Victorian interiors is a forceful color palette. Describing the gradual shift from understated color choices to more expressive tones, Spencer-churchill writes, “There was little paneling on the walls,” in contrast with early Georgian walling, which was often elaborately molded wood. Furthermore, the walls “were painted in any of a variety of finishes and incorporated strong, sharp colors such as acid yellow and crimson.” Victorian rooms, likewise, would be painted in bold, albeit deeper, hues.
AGING MODERN HOMES
Even new homes can exude convincing classic elegance. Spencer-churchill displays a few homes which, despite appearances, are modern creations, built in the Georgian style and decorated accordingly. In one Las Vegas home, for instance, the architects used pillars ornamentally, which would usually stabilize the home. “The Tuscan columns in the huge hall of this Scottish house are not, in fact, structural, but they visually anchor the large beam above them,” SpencerChurchill writes. As a result, the pillars prove as foundational to the home’s apparent historicity as real columns to an authentic Georgian model.
When it comes to adopting an older design for a building’s exterior or interior, it is also important to use real models for inspiration. Look for concrete examples to emulate, instead of trying to work from a vague or overly-general concept. When Spencer-churchill worked on the Las Vegas build, the homeowner opted to replicate existing architecture. “The staircase was inspired by one that my client had seen in an original Georgian home,” Spencer-churchill writes. “It is an
exemplary example of interior architecture and craftsmanship.” You don’t necessarily have to visit real Victorian buildings for reference, but it is a good idea to do your research, so you know exactly what you’re looking for.
MODERNIZING CLASSIC HOMES
Spencer-churchill also offers advice for bringing old-fashioned homes into the present, while maintaining their historic spirits. For example, she recommends “add[ing] floor sockets in strategic positions.” That way, you can incorporate the ease of electricity, without disrupting the period atmosphere. After all, people are less apt to notice outlets on the floor than on the wall. Added bonus? Floor sockets prevent “trailing cables.”
In classic homes, kitchens tend to present a unique challenge, partially due to their change in function over the years, and partially due to the advent of modern appliances. “Georgian kitchens were very much out of sight and out of mind,” Spencer-churchill writes. “Today, of course, the kitchen has become the hub of the home and the preferred venue for casual family meals.” The difficulty is in “produc[ing] something timeless yet also ergonomically efficient, and bristling (unobtrusively) with modern appliances.”
In and out of the kitchen, Spencer-churchill works to achieve this goal. When possible, she encloses modern features in wood paneling, carefully matching the cover with the style and furnishings of the rest of the room. She covers hall radiators “with a casing to look like a piece of furniture.” She camouflages TV sets by making an entertainment cabinet look like an old chest of drawers. Likewise, she designed a London townhome’s media room with “surround-sound speakers concealed within the built-in cabinets.”
In addition to modifying furniture to hide appliances, Spencer-churchill also experiments with surface textures. In order to tie the townhome’s hallway together from top to bottom, she mimicked the wall paneling on the ceiling. The ceiling is, in fact, “painted with a trompe l’oeil finish to look like plaster panels.” You may also opt to vary textures to make a room appear aged. As Spencer-churchill explains, “A combination of different woods gives the impression that [a] room has evolved slowly through time.”
Spencer-churchill also offers decorating guidelines for each space in the house. For example, she advises that guest bedrooms “should reflect the general ambience of the house while not overwhelming visitors with personal detail.” Bathrooms should remain crisp and streamlined, with the introduction of sinks, tubs and showers. “In order to give a bathroom a contemporary cutting edge without going too far, it is possible to find or to commission bathroom fixtures that are totally classic or clean-cut,” she writes. “Free-standing pieces are often a good choice, as they tend to be more sculptural than built-ins.”
The teenager’s bedroom should be “neither childish nor too grown-up.” After all, teenagers “need a space to express their own personalities
Chronologically, Victorian and Georgian timeframes begin to intersect around the turn of the 19th century.
and, while they often don’t know what they want, they usually know what they don’t want.” Similarly, children’s rooms should last the test of time, while embracing imaginative elements. “Children’s rooms should be special,” SpencerChurchill writes, “a bit magical, without being too obviously babyish or driven by a theme that the child (never mind the parents) will quickly tire of.”
When it comes to choosing your furniture, don’t be afraid to combine reproduction pieces with true antiques. As Spencer-churchill notes, “Items such as coffee tables are, of course, impossible to find as genuine antique pieces.” Likewise, “finding genuine antique bedside commodes is often difficult.”
Thankfully, in some cases, it is possible to furnish a partial set, with reproductions completing the collection. “Occasionally we may find a small set of suitable original [mahogany] chairs in the right style,” Spencer-churchill writes, “but invariably there are never enough so we will have more copied to make up the required number.” Reproducing old furniture is not a recent innovation. In the 19th century, for instance, French designers replicated 18th century fauteuils, or open armchairs. Likewise, architectural revivals throughout history have repeatedly rebirthed past trends.
With its elegant array of dishes, this simply furnished dining table is, aptly enough, fit for a regent. Surrounding the table, the painting, grandfather clock and floor-length curtains complete the stylish space.
Dream of centuries gone by in this delightfully historic guest room, furnished with a traditional canopy bed and lovely classic paintings.
With a little forethought, it is very possible to keep modern conveniences in classic homes. This gorgeous period bedroom conceals a television, tucked neatly into the chest at the foot of the bed.
Georgian Style and Design for Contemporary Living by Henrietta Spencer-churchill, published by CICO Books, © 2018; rylandandpeters.com.