Looking at how interiors changed during the Regency Period
Stunning use of colour in this Regency House Image credit: @manwithahammer
When was The Regency?
Strictly speaking, the Regency period in England covers the nine years from 1811 when King George III became ill until his death in 1820, but the term is often used to refer to the period between 1790 - 1837, when Queen Victoria became Queen.
A More Informal Lifestyle
At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century there was a growing taste for freedom and irregularity in landscape views which was promoted by the Picturesque movement. This concept of asymmetry and irregularity soon led to changes in the layout of the principal rooms.
As people were looking to adopt a more relaxed way of life, interior design in England slowly changed to accommodate the more informal lifestyle.
Where the main rooms in earlier Georgian houses were planned in a strict symmetrical way on enfilade (where a group of rooms are arranged in a row and interconnected so that each room opens into the next) the rooms towards the end of the 18th century were laid out in a slightly more informal way on a type of "circuit plan":
Although the family could use these rooms for everyday living, the rooms could also easily be turned into spaces for entertaining, like a ballroom or card room. The drawing room and dining room were the two main rooms used for entertaining.
The fact that the drawing room was seen as feminine and the dining room masculine was reflected in the decoration of the rooms. After dinner, the ladies would withdraw to the drawing room (withdrawing room) and leave the men in the dining room to continue their discussions and their drinking. Very often, houses were designed in such a way that the dining room and the drawing room would be separated by another space so that the ladies wouldn't be disturbed by the noise from the dining room.
In many country houses, the library was used as the family's informal living room furnished with sofas, chairs and different types of tables.
As the layout of the spaces changed, people started thinking about moving their furniture around and arranging it in more informal, irregular ways. Previously, chairs and other pieces of furniture were only moved into the middle of the room when needed. Otherwise, apart from large, heavy dining tables, the furniture stayed against the walls and the middle of the rooms were empty most of the time.
"If your house was no longer symmetrical, there was no longer any reason why your furniture should be arranged with formal regularity."
- Peter Thornton
In Fragments on the Theory of Landscape Gardening , the 18th century landscape gardener Humphry Repton shows the difference between the older style drawing room in the top image and the 'modern living room' below. In the more modern scene, groups of people can be seen mingling and talking more informally.
Love of Nature
Light was a very important feature of Regency interiors. Towards the end of the 18th century, people felt that they wanted to be in touch with nature and this was reflected in their homes. 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, just as we would do today. They also brought nature inside by placing vases of flowers around the house. They were big on "bringing the outside in" and "connecting with nature", just as we are trying to do today.
"Flowers came to be of great importance as a feature of interior decoration during this period ... The general use of flowers everywhere was a new development."
- Peter Thornton
It's understandable then that conservatories became very popular after their appearance in the early 19th century. They were now being used as living spaces as well as for permanent displays of flowers and plants.
"Based on the principle that each type of fatigue requires a different kind of seating, one never finds identical types of chair in an English room."
- Adolf Loos
Mahogany Sabre leg elbow chair and a Faux Rosewood chaise longue
Just as there were many different types of chairs to be found in the Regency drawing room, a wide variety of tables with specific functions emerged. During the early 1800's, the sofa-table made its appearance. This was a rectangular topped table that stood permanently in front of the sofa, used for sewing, to place books on or to have tea on.
At the same time, round tables also appeared on drawing room floors, and by the time more efficient lighting was invented, these tables could be used in the evenings for playing cards, reading or sewing.
Work tables, tea tables, urn tables, Pembroke tables, kidney tables, pier tables (similar to a console table) and nest of tables could all be seen in the drawing room. In the dining room, apart from the wide range of large extendable dining tables, the sideboard was a very popular piece of furniture. It had a flat surface for serving and would hold cutlery and tableware.
Left to right: 1810 Tea table, Breakfast table and Urn table
Regency sideboard and a sewing table
Many exotic kinds of woods like amboyna, American maple, rosewood and tulipwood became more readily available during this period and could be seen to be used by cabinet makers of the time. Veneering was often used to achieve an expensive effect without a big financial outlay.
Paint Colours and Wall Treatments
According to Patrick Baty in his The Anatomy of Colour, at the beginning of the 19th century, the basic palette remained basically the same apart from a new pigment, Prussian blue, which replaced most of the earlier blues.
"...the tonality of the room lightened considerably and wall treatments underwent a radical change."
- Patrick Baty
The floor to ceiling panelling of the earlier 18th century became unfashionable and started to disappear. The panels between the dado and the picture rail or coving were removed and either painted or hung with wallpaper or fabric. Fabric was still used on the walls of grand houses, but wallpaper became more fashionable and accessible as production increased.
Block printed geranium-leaf wallpaper with chain border c. 1790. Image credit: English Heritage
Below is an example of a classic ‘Roman’ or Regency proportion stripe originally produced in the 18th Century using the ‘open trough’ method, in which the stripes were created by bands of paint seeping through holes or slots in the bottom of a wooden trough, onto the surface of the paper as it was pulled beneath. Striped wallpapers manufactured in this way are characterised by a brushed finish which was later superseded by a flatter print achieved with 19th Century rollers, as is evidenced in these papers. (Little Greene)
In the dining room of The Regency Townhouse, the paint on one of the walls was sanded down to reveal the many layers going back about 200 years:
Image credit: The Regency Townhouse
Ceiling rose detail at The Regency Townhouse
Living in a Regency House Today
"Later Georgian interiors, otherwise known as Regency, can be daring and colourful or simple and light."
As with all period homes, always work WITH the building while respecting the architectural history and make sure you understand the building before rushing into making any changes.
We all have things that we’ve collected over time. Perhaps you’ve inherited a beautiful piece of furniture, or you have artwork or accessories from previous homes. Try planning your design around the pieces that mean something to you. Mixing different styles was not only acceptable in Regency interiors, but became very popular, and so too did eclectic arrangements of furniture and furnishings in the same room.
Space planning is important when thinking about designs for your Regency home. Consider the space you're dealing with carefully and make the most of all the interesting corners and alcoves. It might give you the perfect opportunity for some additional storage, bookcases, anything to hide the clutter of modern living in an interesting way.
If you're looking for a wallpaper that will update your Regency space, but you're looking for something with a hint of history, there are many wallpaper companies that are bringing original designs found in archives back to life in an updated range of colourways.
Wallpapers by Little Greene: Clutterbuck Bice (based on an original early 19th century design) and Colonial Stripe (based on an original Regency design)
Barleycorn And Ivy from Allyson Mc Dermott based on an original stencil design from the early 19th Century, but inspired by medieval originals. Image credit: Allyson McDermott
The Royal Pavilion Chinoiserie Panels from Allyson McDermott. This elegant early 19th century Chinese Export paper originally hung on the first floor of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Image credit: Allyson McDermott
A late Regency house masterfully designed by Philip Hooper. Image source: House and Garden
The bathroom in this Regency house was transformed by Greg Penn @manwithahammer
Useful Links & Resources
Historic England Historic England guidance for period properties and listed buildings
Instagram is a great place to find Heritage Consultants and architects who specialise in period properties
Patrick Baty is an expert on the paint and colours of the past four centuries
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