Layered Victorian-style decor looks expensive.

How to Decorate a House in Victorian Style

by Michelle Radcliff

At first glance, Victorian-style decorating appears to have been exclusive to the wealthy, with lavish textiles and exotic furnishings typical of upper-class homes. Inspiration came from lifestyles filled with exploration, education, rich cultural diversity and appreciation for the natural world. While some considered the style excessive, Victorian decorating was really a style of self-expression, where individual passion was displayed through art, collectibles and knick-knacks. However, new technologies, inexpensive imports and new decorative techniques enabled middle-class families of the Victorian era to decorate their homes like the wealthy. The same is true today with modern Victorian style, as you can mix inexpensive reproduction or traditional furniture with a few antiques, and use decorative techniques to enrich your home without spending a fortune.

Deck the Walls

Paint walls in muted, earthy colors such as mustard yellow, brick red, dusky rose, burnt umber, lavender, sage and olive green. You can also go with later Victorian colors in bright, jewel tones of aubergine, emerald green, ruby red and golden amber. For a more contemporary approach, use monochromatic neutrals on walls. Texture was common on Victorian walls, whether it came from painting over plaster, from thick, embossed wallcoverings, or from popular wallpaper patterns by designers such as Walter Crane or William Morris. Add faux texture and dimension to painted walls with a color wash. Decorative wood trim such as wainscoting, chair rails and crown molding is typical in Victorian homes. Embossed wallpaper with reproduced designs and patterns from the Victorian era, and borders mimicking wall trim, are cheaper alternatives.Tripartite wallpaper or trompe l’oeil wallcoverings mimic the look of expensive trim, finishes and lifelike, handpainted murals.

Don't Hold Back

Layer windows with lavish textiles of silk, satin, velvet and lace. Elegant swags, cascades and pelmets adorn the top, with long jabots or tied-back panels framing the edges. Inner lace panels softly diffuse incoming daylight. Windows themselves came in a vast array of artistic designs during the Victorian era, with features such as leaded or stained glass, Gothic arched muntins and diamond-shaped panes called quarrels. You can find these types of antique windows for sale on auction sites and at historical salvage companies, or you can buy reproductions.

What's Old Is New Again

Both vintage and reproduction Victorian and French period-style furniture is not hard to find. Look for affordable pieces that stand out, such as Queen Anne-style sofas, lounges, settees or chairs. French period-style furniture such as tables and dressers fit well with this decorating style. You can also blend less ornate, traditional-style furniture in with a few standout reproductions or antiques you may have been lucky enough to find in a curio shop, flea market or yard sale. Plain pieces can be dressed up with new upholstery or other accessories.

Lace It Up With Accessories

Accessories help complete the Victorian look. Display vintage dinnerware collections or inherited items such as fine silverware or china in a hutch or china cabinet. Cover end tables with lace doilies, lace shawls or lace tablecloths. Drape sheer silk fabric over nightstands and buy or make your own fabric and fringe lampshades. Oriental or Persian rugs were practically a staple element in Victorian homes, and you can find beautiful designs at reasonable prices. Faux animal print rugs and throws add striking contrast and pattern. Exotic artifacts reflect an interest in travel and culture -- popular topics in the Victorian era -- so consider a display of Egyptian, Middle Eastern or Asian decor for interest. Large floral arrangements and peacock or ostrich feather bouquets in vases make lovely centerpieces. Hang a collection of Victorian-style art prints in decorative, metallic gold-painted frames on the wall.

About the Author

Michelle Radcliff owned a retail home furnishings business for eight years. Radcliff offers decorating advice on her blog, Home Decorating News, is a regular contributor on interior design at and earned certification as an interior decorator from Penn Foster College in 2013.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/ Images