God Save the Queen: Victorian décor is still alive and well
Call me an old soul, but I’ve always had a hankering for old-time décor, architecture and etiquette. I’m convinced I was born in the wrong era. I should have been born into a wealthy family in the 1900s – like Lady Mary in Downton Abbey. Since I’ve started watching the series, I have become completely enthralled by everything Victorian and Edwardian – the over-the-top décor, china ornaments, the beautiful silver teapots and of course, the airs and graces!
The reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901, signalled an extended period of peace, family responsibility, patriotism, national self-confidence and wealth. This attitude was reflected in British homes, which were defined by opulence, excess, confidence and above all, wealth. The more bells and whistles, lush carpets, chandeliers (and of course servants), the higher the family was regarded in British society. It wasn’t only the British who moved toward Victorian aesthetics, as other nations soon followed suit. The Anglo-Japanese and Art Nouveau eras were both incepted in the late Victorian and Gothic periods. Fortunately, Victorian architecture can still be admired in the United States of America and in South Africa. It’s wonderful that some homeowners have maintained the original buildings because in this way, history lives on.
Typical Victorian houses in Britain included older styles, such as early classicism mixed with Middle Eastern and Asian influences. In the United States, Victorian homes included styles from the Second Empire, Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque. Characteristics of these homes included impressive sash windows with large glass panes, filigree terraces and slate roofs, and most homes had small gardens, which were often the homeowner’s pride and joy.
If you find old fashioned décor and architecture as fascinating as I do, you should visit these museums to gain a richer understanding and appreciation of the Victorian era.
The United Kingdom
Leighton House Museum
Leighton House, home of the great Victorian artist Lord Frederic Leighton, is a typical example of Victorian opulence. Indoors, guests can admire his permanent exhibition of paintings, drawings and sculptures including works by Burne-Jones, Millais, Stevens and Alma-Tadema.
William Morris Gallery
Open to the public, the William Morris Gallery is devoted to the life of William Morris, an esteemed designer, crafter, writer, conservationist and socialist. Morris was the founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Georgian/Victorian England.
The United States
Painted Ladies, San Francisco
The Painted Ladies in San Francisco are of the most beautiful Victorian buildings in the city. Constructed in a neat row, these dainty houses are steeped in history and culture; an attraction every history buff and art enthusiast should tick off their “must-see” list when visiting the Golden Gate City. Even if you aren’t too enthusiastic about history, the Painted Ladies will sweep you off your feet.
“Painted Ladies” is a term of endearment attached to any Victorian or Edwardian houses painted in three colours, the purpose of which is to offset the intricate details of the architectural design. There are many colourful houses in San Francisco, but if you’re in search of the famous ones known as the Six Sisters, you will need to travel to Steiner Street in the Alamo Square neighbourhood.
Lindfield Victorian House Museum
Step back in time and imagine living in the 1900s when you visit Lindfield Victorian House in Johannesburg. The owner, Katherine Love, decided to open her exquisite home to the public, so all may appreciate the splendour of a bygone era. Every detail of the house, from the paintings, furniture, décor to the light switches, have been carefully and painstakingly replicated to reflect what a family home felt like when Queen Victoria sat on her throne. Ask Katherine and she’ll share her incredible detailed knowledge on Victorian customs and attitudes, as well as the contents of each room (of which there are many).
Melrose House Pretoria
Built in 1886 by Pretoria businessman George Jesse Heys, Melrose House is an impressive example of Victorian architecture in South Africa. It was named after the Melrose Abbey in Scotland (not the Melrose cheese wedges). The house served as the headquarters for the British army after Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, was invaded in 1900. Today, Melrose House still stands tall and welcomes visitors to explore it’s interiors of colourful stained glass windows, paintings, carpets, rococo ceilings and fireplaces, all originally owned by the Heys family.
Rovos Rail is the epitome of luxury with its stunning wood panelling and Edwardian and Victorian décor and furnishings. Traveling with Rovos is a sophisticated affair, as it maintains the highest standards. Even though you may feel as if you’ve travelled back in time when you step onto Rovos’ Pride of Africa because of its Victorian ambience, you certainly will not be without modern comforts. Each suite offers fittings and trimmings that guarantee supreme comfort and luxury as you embark on the trip of a lifetime through Africa.