Interior Decorating Styles - Part Three - The 18th to Mid 19th Century

Knowing your preferred decorating style is the best way to approach a decorating project from a point of knowledge. The information will help you to tackle your own decorating project or to speak confidently to a decorator or designer when communicating your vision for your space. In part three we will look at a few of the decorative styles contributed by the 18th Century and begin the Mid 19th Century. This five part series on interior decorating styles will give you an overview of contributions offered to the decorating industry.

In the 18th century two styles of architecture and decoration dominated the first half of the century. The first style was Palladianism. Palladianism was derived from the writings and engravings of the 16th century Italian architect, Andrea Palladio. This particular style was characterized by bold, austere, and large architectural elements such as Venetian windows. Venetian windows were used a great deal by Palladio. This particular window is arched with two lower rectangular openings on each side.

During the 18th century, floors were often bare with sisal matting or oriental carpets. The ceilings were coffered with plaster moldings. A coffered ceiling is a ceiling that consists of recessed panels in the shape of a square, rectangle, or octagon and is usually trimmed with ornamental motifs. This type of ceiling actually dates back as far as the 6th century as both a decorative element and as a means of lightening the load of a heavy marble or stone ceiling. Back then you would only see a coffered ceiling in the homes of the very rich, but today, coffered ceilings are available to everyone and can even be purchased in kits. It is a popular look in libraries. The walls were paneled and painted with a flat paint usually in grey or green or hand painted wall papers. The walls were meant to be the backdrop for paintings, prints, or engravings. The Palladianism style featured furniture made of solid or veneered walnut. Veneered furniture is actually very well made. The thin wood overlay is fragile in its natural state or by itself; because it's generally only 1/64 inch thick, but when it's properly glued to another surface it becomes part of that surface and has considerable strength. Special care must be taken when sanding because it is so thin you can sand right through it. But, the good news is that it doesn't take much sanding to smooth it, because it is sliced with an extremely sharp knife. Palladianism style furniture typically consists of tripod tables, bureau bookcases, and upholstered chairs usually in a fabric that coordinates with the window treatment.

The second distinctive style of Early 18th century was Rococo. This style was lighter, exotic, and it seemed almost frivolous in appearance. Rococo was recognized because of the use of Rocaille, Chinoiserie (Oriental art and motifs), Turkish and Indian figures. Roacille is another word for Rococo which is the Italian word for style. It is the most opulent excessive version of the Louis XV form. It is characterized by exaggerated curves and extensive carving, sculpting, and ornamentation, most commonly including scrolls and seashells. Flowers, foliage and light scroll work was often used. A popular color for the walls was light yellow. However, the Rococo style was not very popular in America.

The Late 18th Century saw a predominant style called Neo-Classicism. It first emerged in the 1750's in Europe. Neo-classicism was a reaction to the flamboyant and frivolous style of Rococo. Neo-Classicism reached the United States in the 1780s. Actually, in many respects it is a natural extension of early century Palladianism. Because the Rococo style never quite caught on in the United States, it was pretty much over looked and the next style, Neo-Classicism, went back to the Palladianism style for its inspiration. Now, Roman architecture was taking center stage again, but, unlike Palladianism, ancient Greek architecture was also included. Neo-Classical interiors were elegant and are well suited for traditional style homes. The Neo-Classical style had lightness to it and featured a great deal of linear decoration. The walls were mostly divided by a dado or a chair rail. Essentially, a dado divides a wall horizontally and is usually about 36 inches from the floor. Its purpose is to keep the backs of chairs from damaging the wall. The walls of a Neo-Classical styled space usually were covered with a flat paint or patterned wall paper. Furniture pieces used were embellished with painted swags of flowers, ornamental bows, and cupids, and other mythological scenes. Solid or veneered mahogany wood was typically used. The windows were treated with swaged and tailed drapes. The fabrics used for drapes were not heavy in weight such as tapestries and woolen velvets. Simpler fabrics were used. Neo-Classicism preferred light weight silks, printed cottons and sheers. These types of window treatments are popular in what we call Contemporary spaces.

During the 19th Century interior decoration was still basically Neo-Classical. The predominant styles that emerged during the early 19th century were the Empire and Regency styles. These styles were in celebration of Napoleon's conquests which provided military motifs. The Empire style originated in France in the 1790s. The basic architectural style of the French palaces was Classical. Fixtures and furniture included laurel wreaths, medallions, and imperial eagles, swans, and lions. The Regency style drew inspiration from Greek ornament and incorporated elements of Chinoiserie. And, both of the styles saw an increase in the use of cut pile carpets. The ceilings were built lower and usually there was a medallion in the center where the chandelier hung. Flat paint was still used on the walls in addition to faux finish paint treatments becoming popular. Faux marble and woodgrained finishes were used on doors and other wood work. Fabrics in the Regency style were light weight silks and floral patterned chintzes. The chaise lounge became popular. Upholstered chairs, settees and sofas were very generously stuffed, and most times deep-buttoned or tufted. And a new development of permanent groupings of chairs and tables to facilitate conversation became more prevalent.

During the Mid 19th Century the color palette of interiors began to broaden and include more vibrant colors. What may seem over the top and excessive to us today was considered chic and sophisticated in the mid 19th century. As with most things, eventually the color palette and excessive interiors became less ostentatious. Also, an eclectic mix of decorative styles became fashionable.

We will explore more of the Eclectic style in part 4 of the interior decorating style series as we continue to talk about the Mid 19th Century and late 19th Century.


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