Victorian Style Furniture: Antique Collecting Tips 

Updated November 19, 2021
Victorian Style Living Room

Victorian style furniture is often associated with darkly lit rooms and highly saturated colors, and while these attributes might not mesh with the tenants of modern interior design, you can add a Victorian-styled piece or two to your living room with no trouble at all. If you like velvet, tassels, and ornate wood carvings, then you should eschew Ikea's long-lettered ready-made pieces for an authentic example of antique Victorian furniture.

Victorian Furniture in a Nutshell

Victorian furniture in living room

The Victorian period refers to the time between Queen Victoria's reign over Great Britain, and furniture styles--along with so many other creative endeavors--experienced various sources of influence over the many decades that she was in power. However, there are a couple of overarching characteristics that you can expect to see on a piece from the Victorian period.

Such characteristics you can find in Victorian furniture include:

  • Ornate decoration - Craftsmen paid extra attention to decorative elements like gilding, inlays, and carvings with the wooden elements of this furniture.
  • Dark woods - Darker woods like mahogany and rosewood were used in abundance during the Victorian period.
  • Rich upholstery - Chairs, lounges, and sofas were covered in vibrant upholstery made out of fabrics like hair cloths, velvet, and velour during the Victorian period.
  • Circular motifs - Seated furniture often featured circular motifs in their structure, whether that meant in the balloon back chairs you can find or the rounded sofa backs on their chaise lounges that have lasted to this day.

Furniture Revivals During the Victorian Period

Over the course of a little over 60 years, Victorian furniture underwent massive changes, often reflecting regional and historic influences to manifest furniture across several decades that hardly follows a consistent design throughline. In fact, most of these changes can be pinned down to a series of revivals from furniture styles of old that occurred during the century, which is why so much historic furniture is incorrectly attributed to the Victorian period by average people.

Here are the main revivals that occurred during the era:

  • Gothic revival - The Gothic revival came out of a desire to include the sharp and sleek lines of Gothic architecture in Victorian furniture. Think dark sleigh beds with significantly arched headboards as an example of this influence.
  • Renaissance revival - During the 1850s, furniture makers switched it up by adding elements of Renaissance design into their pieces, giving their furniture a heavier, sturdier look. Marble began to be incorporated as well, and the motifs that were used no longer reflected nature but rather scholastic imagery like scrolls and laurels.
  • Jacobean revival - Jacobean strapwork provided a lot of inspiration for Victorian furniture makers in the 1870s, and as the pieces began to be manufactured by machine, they lost some of their more detailed elements that had arisen in the previous decades.
  • Rococo revival - The Rococo revival was particularly prominent during the Victorian period and lasted the longest out of all of the other revivals. Furniture with things like natural motifs and graceful lines embodied this style.
  • Asian interpretations - With Japanese trade opening in the 1850s and greater imperial reach established in the far east, English furniture makers created pieces that had distinctly Asian influences, and although not a conventional revival, this interpretive behavior lasted for a significant amount of time. In fact, the 1870s saw a lot of this, such as with teak woods being introduced.

How to Detect Reproduction Furniture

Victorian style chaise lounge chair sofa

High-quality reproductions can be difficult to detect from just a quick glance, but if you know what you're looking for, you can quickly pick out 'which one of these doesn't belong.' A few of the most significant tells to look for include:

  • Signs of aging
  • Period-correct hardware and materials
  • Aged smells
  • Imperfections

How to Mesh Victorian Furniture With Your Modern Home

victorian chair

Given the variety of types of furniture that were made during the Victorian period, it's actually pretty easy to find a piece or two that'll fit into your modern home. One of the most popular choices that people gravitate towards are sofas/lounges. This is due in large part to the way that these highly saturated and decorative pieces make an immediate statement and are also incredibly functional. Similarly, a Victorian chair--like a balloon chair or a nursing chair--can be a lovely addition to the corner of a sitting room since they don't take up too much space.

When you're trying to think about how to mesh your favorite furniture style with your industrial apartment, keep a few things in mind:

  • Size - Victorian furniture can be rather large at times, and you want to make sure that you're selecting pieces that aren't going to overcrowd your space. So, go into your search knowing what the general size of the furniture you're looking for is.
  • Prints/textures - So much of the Victorian furniture that's made to be sat in comes upholstered in either bold and busy prints or vibrant colors, meaning that you want to make a deliberate choice for the furniture you choose. Either pick prints and colors that directly contrast or complement the color scheme of your space. Lean into whichever you choose because commitment can sell just about any idea when it comes to design choices.
  • Condition - It's best to determine if you're looking for a functional piece or a decorative one early on. That way, you don't fall in love with something that isn't going to fit your needs.

When Ikea's Food Court Isn't Even Enough

Modern furniture manufacturers and retailers make their products in such a way that they're cheaper to purchase initially but have to be replaced far quicker than the historic pieces that require a more substantial investment up-front. Thus, if longevity is the main thing you want to get out of your furniture, but you don't want to sacrifice style or be pigeonholed into a specific theme, then a lovely piece of Victorian furniture is the right choice for you.

Victorian Style Furniture: Antique Collecting Tips