Victorian Furniture

By Karen Parr-Moody


The Victorians were masters of invention, as evidenced by the virtual typhoon of worldly goods that entered the homes of the wealthy. The reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) was a prosperous one and the resulting décor made manifest a philosophy of “excess is best.” Such excess took the form of everything from a dozen fork styles to seven daily wardrobe changes to a barrage of furniture designs. GasLamp Too features such Victorian ephemera, including a variety of the era’s furniture.


Victorian furniture has been categorized into many styles. The main ones are Gothic Revival (circa 1830-1860), Rococo Revival (c. 1840-1865), Renaissance Revival (c. 1860-1890) and Eastlake and Aesthetic Movement (c. 1880-1900).


Chaise lounges were typically found in a woman’s boudoir (illustration, above right), as it was viewed as a more casual piece of furniture in which one would relax or receive intimate guests. Victorian chaise lounges are sometimes called “fainting couches” due to a belief that women were prone to fainting due to the tight corsets worn during the era. This is not necessarily the case, as similar styles have existed for millennia – going as far back as ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece. And Victorians loved to revive historic styles.


The Victorian chaise lounge usually has a small back with one arm that typically slopes. In the photo, left, is a Victorian chaise lounge that belongs to the Eastlake and Aesthetic Movement, styles characterized by the natural elements of leaves, along with geometric forms and shallow incising ($575; GasLamp Too Booth T-295). Today this particular piece of furniture adds elegance to any room; it would look at home in a large entryway, a great room, an office or a bedroom.


During the Victorian era, women’s skirts were full. The crinoline – also called a hoop skirt – reigned supreme until the late 1860s, when the bustle entered the landscape. By the 1870s and 1880s the bustle had replaced the crinoline and was worn with a cuirasse bodice, a long and tight-boned bodice that descending from the bust to the hips. A woman’s skirt was punctuated with a bustle about six inches wide and a foot long, as seen in the illustration, right, which ran in the pages of an 1886 La Mode Illustrée, one of the most important French magazines of the era.


The cumbersome nature of the bustle – it extended almost at a right angle from the waist – necessitated a new form of furniture to accommodate its wearers: enter the Victorian bustle bench. Although some bustles were made of collapsible steel, they still added so much volume to a women’s backside that a backless bench with a curved seat served a practical purpose. In the photo, below, is such a model made of turned wood that is stained dark mahogany. It is available at GasLamp Too Booth T-295 ($195).  


In the photo, below right, is a sofa that belongs to the Rococo Revival style, a French-influenced category that is distinguished by its use of flora, flowers, shells and fruit, as well as curved lines and C-scrolls and S-scrolls. Popular woods included mahogany, walnut and rosewood.


This mahogany sofa is a triple-back – or medallion-back – style that is crested with deep rose carvings. Many of these designs retain their button-tufted upholstery, but designer Jason Parker Counce has had this one reupholstered in a modern fabric, which makes it perfect for a transition into today’s décor ($995, Jason Parker Counce’s Dirt booth T-309). 


The ladies’ slipper chair in the photo, below left, is made from walnut and features front legs that have a graceful curving with rear legs that curve only slightly (circa 1870s; $485 at Booth T-105). Such a chair was built by craftsmen of the period in the Rococo Revival style. The back is pierce-carved by hand and features the curves that were so typical of the Rococo look.


Fashionable Victorian interiors have gone the way of the hoop skirt and the bustle, but the surviving furniture retains much decorative value for homes of today. Those antique hunters who also have a flair for decorating will find that the pieces bring refinement into any room and can be blended easily into today’s interiors.




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