Need help with interior color selection for a victorian

kterlepMay 24, 2010


I don't know why finishing wide pine flooring doesn't scare me but pulling the PO's "perfectly good" wallpaper and trying to paint bare plaster scares me to bits...

I thought that since we had all the furniture out of our front and back parlors (which we use for a music room and a library (think several heavy large instruments and lots of bookcases and books , not easily moved on a whim) that this would be the only opportunity we would have to paint.

Currently our downstairs (four rooms square plus "addition" of kitchen+bath+butler's pantry/laundry) is dominated by dark green and shades of pink to burgundy. I have some pictures on facebook but not on here, but the PO wasn't that imaginative, so I can just describe...

The parlors have a big double door between them (so big that they really are one room).

The library has a "harvest gold"/mustard trent tile surround on the fireplace (which I like and would like to contrast/emphasize. This room is currently wallpapered in beige with drapes of burgundy ribbon (very busy pattern)

The front parlor (music room) has a "avacado green" trent tile surround on the fireplace and a double mantle with mirror and a large plate glass window (I think they call it a cottage window?) with a large (upper pane, like a transom?) stained glass with shades of gold in a fleur-de-lys theme.

This room is currently wallpapered in a pink floral on white (with a border, yaaay!)

The front parlor has another large set of pocket doors that goes to the entry hall. The entry hall is wallpapered in pink floral on dark green (which reads "burgundy on green with pink" to me)...this also goes up the stairwell (what is that, 20 feet high?) and upstairs. I would have pulled this down already but I'm afraid of the 20 ft...This wallpaper will need to go eventually, it's 21 years old (according to the date on the matching carpet) and it's beat up on the stairs).

We have removed the coordinating green floral carpet that was in all four rooms downstairs (it was cool but it smelled bad and had stains all over it, plus it was kinda weird to have the same green carpet with flowers in every room, and it smelled bad.) a week, all four rooms will be stained to match the woodwork (a dark but warm unidentified oak-ish looking wood with beautiful cross-grains, someone said it could be chestnut...)

So, anyway, if you have some ideas on color schemes, maybe you can cajole me to tear down the wallpaper... :)

There isn't any painted woodwork in these two rooms, a high finished baseboard, and there is no crown molding. I am up for doing some fancy painting/stenciling but it needs to be something I can finish in a reasonable amount of hours. I would probably WANT to add a picture rail in the music room but not in the library (it has tall shelves).

I know wallpaper is the "right" thing to do, but I simply can't afford it, and after seeing the PO's handiwork with the wrong materials, I don't want to go...

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I would love to paper my home with repro Victorian wallpapers, too...oh, if only they weren't so expensive!

I have an 1857 home and have amassed a decent amount of books about Victorian homes and decoration in an effort to learn more about the house and its history. If you're looking for ideas and want to be historically accurate, here's a couple books for you that have really helped me out a lot.

The very best book I've come across so far is called "Victorian Interior Decoration", which I have linked below. It's especially helpful for learning about Victorian color schemes and literally every other interior decoration detail. It's great because it's broken up into three sections (early, mid and late Victorian) so all bases are covered. Most other books I've found tend to focus mainly on late Victorian homes, namely Queen Annes.

Another really interesting book that might be of help to you is "The Victorian House" by Judith Flanders. It's good, entertaining reading and also has some great info about colors, as well as many color plates. Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Victorian Interior Decoration book

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 10:06AM
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Not getting the visual effects here, but the colors you mention that are permanent parts of the spaces are in the earthy range.

I'd be looking for something in a muted copper, or soft terra cotta for the walls. I love the terra cotta myself, and it can look like a warm deep reddish ember in lamp light. It definitely goes with the mustard and the greens. It will also look very good with the dark floors and woodwork.

Depending on the amount of natural light coming into your rooms, you can bring the greens in with real plants in ornamental pots on stands or on rolling bases making it easier to follow the light. Victorians did love their house plants, large and small. Then on the walls some pressed ferns framed in a cream background, with a narrow black or wood toned gallery frame can be a subject matter they would choose yet fit nicely in modern times.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 11:26AM
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Rust and terra cotta are my favorite colors myself. :) Maybe I'll do a darker shade in one room and a lighter shade in the other room, and maybe accent with a shade of the fireplace color from the other room...(maybe...too adventurous!). Both rooms face southwest, the music room also faces southeast. Both get lots of light...

Thanks !

I think I have "The Victorian House" but all our books are in a big pile right now. I get really frustrated looking in those books because they are too full of other people's stuff...I don't know what is my problem. :)


    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 10:35PM
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Even if you use a different brand, I recommend getting a Farrow and Ball color card. They only have 140 colors, and they are nearly all "vetted" to work in older buildings, although you would still need to figure out which ones are appropriate to the victorian era. I didn't worry much about that, just chose what I liked. I have their "Mouse's back" (yes, that's the name of the color) in my living room and it looks great against the old woodwork and trim (stained, not painted).

If you like the terracottas check out Ellen Kennon's light terracotta. That's a great, timeless color that to me, is impossible to date; I think it could fit a house from almost any era.

Here is a link that might be useful: A good look at some Farrow and Ball colors

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 11:07AM
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Terra Cotta, since you like that color, should look wonderful in rooms with gold and green fireplace tiles - and its so Victorian. If you choose to paint in differing shades, just check both of your choices against the tile in both rooms - sounds really lovely, especially if you really have Chestnut trim.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2010 at 10:49AM
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I had a late Victorian home once very much like you describe. We also decided to do the paint thing and I was very satisfied with the result. Think of it this way when you make that decision..........

Paint over plaster is not a permanent change. Using paint or a non-traditional paint for a Victorian era home will not impact anything down the road. It can easily be repainted, it can be papered. This should free you to use whatever you find pleasing. After all, you will be living in it. This is coming from the old house purist, too. I am old enough to have lived in homes in my childhood painted around the turn of the century to the 30s. I find that effect charming now, but I remember how dark it struck me when I was a child. Dark and heavy. Paint is cheap and paint is easy.....(signs I have renovated too many old homes, lol)

    Bookmark   July 8, 2010 at 4:24PM
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hello, I too am struggling with a similar problem - and also have been attracted to rusts / terra cotta - wondering if y'all might cite some specific color names & brands to look at. When you say "terra cotta" what specifically do you have in mind.

It's very overwhelming at the paint store - literally HUNDREDS of colors in the orangey-red-brown range. Would be good to have something specific to start with.

What's with that link in the post above - spam? I doubt if anyone wants to paint their interior walls with liquid rubber!

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 11:47AM
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The homes in our area that are from the end of the Victorian age are usually done in dark green, gold, rose, deep red and maybe some dark blue. Eastern Washington didn't see any big money until the late 1800's. Many have early Craftsman elements, too, with a return of the dark timbers and earth tones.

If you like earth tones, what about dark green in the library? It's a beautiful color with most woodwork (think english pub green) and would look nice with the tiles around the fireplace. The music room would be beautiful in gold/mustard, very much like the tiles around the library fireplace.

In both rooms, neutral or tan/brown furnishings (maybe some leather in the library) would look great. Do you have much furniture in the music room? Something soft (like a velvet type fabric) for a comfy side chair would look beautiful in the rust/terra cotta, or maybe use the color on pillows for accents?

What color is your dining room/other rooms on the first floor? Would the terra cotta/rust tone work in your dining room? Warm orange tones are always nice in a dining room and stimulate appetite/conversation. Some green and gold accents would really tie the spaces together.

The entry way might be a nice place to try a little wallpaper, or maybe some stenciling. Perhaps you could find something in a natural motif that would tie in the golds, rust and dark green.

It sounds like a great project and a lot of fun. Remember, paint is one of the easiest things to change if you don't like it...but I would still try some test areas and see what it looks like under different lighting/times of day, before I painted the whole room :)

    Bookmark   July 11, 2010 at 1:32PM
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