Trends in interior paint colors throughout the Victorian Age including information regarding pigment development and paint technology advances over the period.
The Victorian era in America lasted over 70 years, between the 1830’s and early 1900’s. A Victorian’s main aim in decorating a home was to create luxurious and detailed layers of beautiful, rich, fine-crafted furnishings, fabrics, art, and lighting. But highlighting the walls of the rooms set the stage. So whether you are planning on restoring an original Victorian home or designing the interior of a newer home in the old style, the first decorating decision must be what to put on your walls.
If you’ve ever toured Victorian homes, you may have noticed that wallpaper was commonly used in lesser used areas of the house. Wallpaper was reserved primarily for the rooms with little natural light, as sunlight could easily alter the paper’s design and color scheme. So you may wish to consider adding some wallpaper in smaller rooms of your home or around the upper portion of a room with wainscoting (another interior design trend of the period). Paint, however, was much more readily available and much less expensive than wallpaper. Therefore, interiors of Victorian homes were most often painted.
Paint technology has come along way since the Victorian Age. Today’s quick and easy water-based latex paints weren’t yet available. They used oil based paints when they could be afforded. If the homeowners’ budget did not allow for oil based paints, they used a whitewashing substance composed of a ground chalk, salt, lime and water. Their oil based paints could require up to 5 coats to achieve a desired color and long-lasting finish. And the whitewashing would wash-out quickly with sun exposure or cleaning.
The pigments available for color-mixing weren’t as varied as they are today either. Victorian painters still relied primarily on natural pigments like indigo (blue) and ocher (yellow-red). And paints were not sold ready-mixed; a painter had to create the colors desired himself. Keeping in mind the inadequacies of the paint products of yesteryear will help you in choosing a more accurate color scheme with modern paints for your Victorian home design. And note that the flat or matte finish was desirable. So choosing a flatter finish for your paint colors will be truest to the period.
Over the 70 years of the Victorian Age, some advances in paint technology were developed, including the discovery of some synthetic pigments, which allowed for a greater array of colors to be created near the turn of the century. And the Victorians were very fashionable in their interiors, as in their clothing, and paint color trends shifted over the period. So when you are considering your own color scheme it may be necessary to decide how true to a certain time within the Victorian Age you would like to be. Remember that near the beginning of the era, when the variety of paint pigments was limited, the colors which could be created were simpler shades and hues like sage green and grays. In the latter part of the period, when more was understood about pigments and more were available, russet, citrine, pomegranate, and peacock blue became fashionable.
Throughout the Victorian period, decorating certain rooms followed an understood expectation to achieve an accepted atmosphere. Victorians were not very free thinkers and tended to obey the current regional trends for decorating. Libraries were to be quiet and dark to encourage thought. A study or den in your home could have a dark gold or a suede tan on the walls. Parlors were to be elegant with bright and cheery colors. If your living room or family room is sunny, go ahead and try a leafy green or cherry red. Bedrooms were to echo the Victorian ideal of chastity with light colored walls. So save the pale blues, greens and pinks for the bedrooms. As the servants were the only people who regularly saw the kitchen, the paint in this room was usually utilitarian white, perhaps with a bit more sheen to ease cleaning and reduce wear.
However you decide to decorate your Victorian-inspired home, remember to be truest to the period choose bright colors for well lit rooms and dimmer, more neutral tones for rooms with less light. Remember, too, that Victorians’ decorating goals were to create an effect of wealth, richness, and taste. And always choose as flat a finish as is practical in your modern home. As today’s interior paints perform much better than anything available in the nineteenth century, flat and satin finishes are now available with a “scrubbable” finish that are easy to wipe clean.