Looking at different styles during the Georgian period
The Georgian and Regency periods in England span the reign of four consecutive King Georges, from the accession of George I in 1714 until the death of George IV in 1830.
The Georgian style didn't consist of only one interior style; the interior fashions changed throughout the century and included four main artistic styles: Palladianism, Rococo, Neoclassicism and Regency.
Early Georgian (1714 - 1745)
The Baroque style was still very much "in" at the beginning of the Georgian era but was quickly replaced by Palladianism, which was inspired by the architecture of the early Roman Empire and was a statement against the theatricality of the Baroque.
Returning from his Grand Tour, the famous aristocratic amateur architect Lord Burlington was very keen to promote the Palladian revival, and he became the leading authority on all things architectural. He was determined that English architecture should be reformed based on the models of Palladio and Inigo Jones and wanted to replace the excesses of the Baroque architects. One of the grandest houses he was involved in was the Palladian style Holkham Hall in Norfolk.
Mid Georgian (1745 - 1760)
By the middle of the century, the trendy Georgians wanted to move away from the restrictions of Palladianism and many of them fell in love with the French Rococo style which was light, playful and naturalistic. Rococo was all about sensuous curves and asymmetrical flourishes, there were no straight lines or symmetry.
The elaborately carved mirror frame in the drawing room at Peckover House in Wisbech is a wonderful expression of the Rococo style, and the beautiful Chinese cabinet next to the fireplace is an example of Chinoiserie, an aspect of the English Rococo style that became popular during this time.
The Chinese taste was at its height during the early 18th century and expeditions to the Orient led to a heightened interest in exotica, especially from East Asia and India. Genuine Chinese pieces imported from China were far too expensive for the middle classes and European artists started producing cheaper imitations to satisfy the growing demand for Eastern imports. It is this new style that emerged, entirely invented by Europeans, that became known as Chinoiserie.
With its characteristics of asymmetry and depictions of Chinese figures, dragons, pagodas and fantasy elements, chinoiserie is still very popular in interior design schemes today.
The Alysson McDermott studio offers a beautiful selection of chinoiserie inspired wallpapers and panels.
The Gothick style, an English version of the French Rococo, appeared around the 1740's. We can see this in the follies and garden temples that were built during this time.
Strawberry Hill, built by Horace Walpole, is the perfect example of English Gothick.
(Just a quick note here, this is not the same as the medieval Gothic style - also note the different spelling)
Late Georgian (1760 - 1800)
Neoclassicism emerged during the second half of the 18th century as an uprising against the excessive Rococo style. The prominent British architects Robert and James Adam promoted the neoclassic style during the late 18th century after having spent several years in Rome during the 1750's, their work was inspired by the antique world.
18th Century interior decoration can be seen in one of Britain’s finest Adam Houses, Newby Hall in Yorkshire which is a wonderful example of 18th century interior decoration.
The Grand Tour
"And in high society, milord anglais on his Grand Tour pillaged the Continent for Old Masters (genuine, fake or retouched), took an artist or two in tow, and built and embellished at every opportunity"
- Roy Porter English Society in the 18th Century
During the 18th century, it became fashionable for the wealthy upper classes to send their sons on a Grand Tour of Italy with the aim to finish off their education and to build a collection. It was a sort of 'cultural finishing school' which also provided the opportunity to buy things that were not available at home and this increased the Grand Tourist's prestige and standing at home.
In the library at Holkham Hall, the Roman mosaic of a lion attacking a leopard which is part of the pedimented overmantle, was brought back by Thomas William Coke from his Grand Tour in 1774.
They acquired Roman statues, sculptures, books, items of culture and numerous artworks. Upon their return, space had to be found or created for the objects they accumulated on their Tour.
Georgian country houses were houses of a ruling class. They were symbols of wealth and power and were built by the the upper classes to show off their wealth; the interiors were designed to impress guests and space had to be found for the souvenirs collected on the Grand Tour. The period produced an increasing number of professional architects, designers and craftsmen which made it very easy for those who could afford it to implement the latest interior fashions.
Regency (1790 - 1830)
Interiors during the Regency period were plainer than in the late Georgian period. The architectural details were simpler, the plaster work was less ornamental and colour was a major consideration. The Regency House had more rooms that were used for a specific purpose and furniture, like the dining table, was now kept in its permanent place instead of being pushed back against the wall after a meal.
Mixing different styles was acceptable and eclectic arrangements of furniture and furnishings in the same room became fashionable.
Light was a very important feature of the interiors during this period. Large windows and skylights above stairwells were used to let in as much light as possible. Mirrors were also cleverly placed opposite windows to reflect the light as well as the foliage outside the windows.
Striped wallpaper was introduced during the Regency and from the 1830's lighter colours such as lilac, pale blue and pastel colours became popular.
Tips on decorating a Georgian House
Their bone structure make Georgian houses easy to restore and decorate. Some architectural features like original plaster work, fireplaces and tiling are always worth restoring as they make a huge difference to an interior design scheme in a period property. Look for a supplier who specialises in reclaimed, original period features, or, if you're unsure, consult a professional.
The original details should always be treated just the same as you would treat your furniture or artwork. Plan the design of the space around them and don't let them become an afterthought.
It's always vital to remember to work WITH the building while respecting the architectural history, and make sure you understand the building before rushing into making any changes.
When it comes to choosing furniture and decor, don't be afraid of mixing different styles in a room, you wouldn't want to turn your house into a museum by having everything from the same period.
Also read my guest post "Interior Design for Period Properties".
Georgian Houses to Visit
Osterley Park and House in West London
Newby Hall in Yorkshire
Ickworth House in Suffolk
Saltram in Devon
Peckover House in Wisbech
Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire
Paxton House in Berwick-upon-Tweed
Claydon in Buckinghamshire
West Wycombe Park in West Wycombe
Harewood House in Leeds
Apsley House in London
The Georgian House in Edinburgh
No. 1 Royal Crescent in Bath
Kenwood House in Hampstead