WEAVING TOGETHER ABSENCE AND ELEGANCE INTO THE STORY OF YOUR VICTORIAN HOME
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.
VISIONARY VICTORIAN VISUALS
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.
MIND YOUR CULTURAL COMPETENCE
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.