Victorian-Era Furniture has gained a bad rap over the past 100 years for it’s “garishness” and I think that there is no potential end to that reputation, and thus, it’s lack of mainstream appeal. I think there is one thing we can do, however, to improve on that and it lies in the upholstery. Nothing makes an already ornate sofa stand out and smack you in the face than a FUSCHIA color or scarlet red or any of many other colors that belong in a Hawaiian sunset.
Obviously, upholstery is a matter of personal taste and needs to match the overall decor of the room, but showing restraint in color and texture with upholstery choice can accentuate the beauty and craftsmanship of the furniture and not turn it into a caricature.
I’ve never been one to subscribe to the whole painted-lady color palettes that have adorned Victorian homes (hello, San Francisco). Colors used externally on Victorians were originally more subdued with earth tones and not combined to shock and awe. Fluorescent paint colors is a later invention of which I am unaware of it’s origin for use on Victorians. A quick read of the good book, “Nineteenth Century Decoration: How to Paint Your Nineteenth-Century American House Historically” by Winkler and Moss will demonstrate this. Love that book, by the way.
I “get” the concept of “picking out” the carved details on exteriors of homes with contrasting colors. This can be done with elegant and historically compatible color choices. I say “compatible” because I am not saying we need to stick to historic color palettes, only that we follow the spirit of how they were assembled. I plan to do it on my roof brackets when my house is painted the next time but will not be doing it with pastel yellow and lime green next to one another.
This carries through to the choices in furniture upholstery. Individuality makes the world go ’round and to each his own. For my money, I want to complement the wood and show off the work of the craftsman. I want my visitors to say that the furniture is beautiful and not stop, squint, and exclaim, “whoah… my eyes” as they enter the parlor.
It’s not the silver bullet to reverse the bad rap that “Victorian” has with many people, but maybe we can leave the bordello colors alone for a while and restore a perception of elegance and achievement that is true of Victorian design and craftsmanship.
Speaking of design and craftsmanship, the rosewood sofa at the top of this post is currently for sale and does indeed demonstrate some excellent carving, but I would prefer it in another color. More at it’s listing.