Victorian Homes

Victorian inspired interior painting advice for redecorating your home

It’s difficult to replicate a historic Victorian paint finish in your home. That’s because Victorian paint surfaces were uneven in colour and texture owing to the topcoat glaze and brushes which left their mark on the painted wall. 

The pigments used in paint made before 1875 were coarse and were mixed through the paint by hand. 

They loved a glossy finish in grand Victorian homes

Dry pigments were ground in oil to form a paste, which was then thinned with oil and turpentine to create a liquid ready for application. It was the oil that created the glossy surface so loved by the Victorians. 

Brushed onto surfaces with a round brush with a wood handle and boar bristles, the paint would have noticeable brush stroke marks and the occasional rogue boar bristle. Painting was an art that required the painter to draw the brush in its final strokes in the direction of the wood grain.

For the finest finishes, coats were applied in layers with each layer being rubbed down with pumice stone after drying – it wasn’t uncommon for up to 10 coats of paint to be used in grand houses to ensure a perfectly glazed finish.

download the full victorian homes ebook

Download Victorian Homes, a free ebook created by Adrian Flux insurance services. It is full of Victorian house facts, tips on how to create a Victorian style house — even if you live in a new-build home — and advice on where to source original Victorian and reproduction fixtures, fittings, furniture, accessories and art.

Paint was originally handmade so colour matching was difficult

During the early Victorian era, colour matching was virtually impossible because paint was made by hand by painters using their own recipes. The first known book of paint formulations was published in 1812 by Hezekiah Reynolds. It offered instructions as to the quantities of tinting pigments that should be mixed into bases to form colours. 

By the early 19th century, more synthetic pigments were available in shades such as chrome green, chrome yellow and red, and more turpentine was added to paint to thin and flatten them. 

Stencils were often used in place of wallpaper and floors could be painted to imitate fine carpets. Other paint effects were also used, including graining and marbling – plain slate would be painted to look like fine Italian marble and wood trim would be given a grain effect to make it appear like expensive oak or walnut. 

After 1875, paint was increasingly made in factories and placed in cans. It boasted finely ground pigments in an oil base and customers would add further oil to the can to make their paint ready for us.

The Victorian era was now filled with magnificent colour

The Victorian era was filled with magnificent colour as homeowners were now able to access a rainbow of shades thanks to industrial and technological advances that brought a spectrum of hues into even the most modest of terraced houses.

Rooms could be a palette of pale shades such as white, pink and cream or a jewellery box of gemstone colours such as emerald, sapphire, garnet, amethyst and ruby. 

However, the Victorians were still restricted to oil-based paints and water-based distempers, the former used on woodwork and some plaster surfaces while the distemper was saved for ceilings.

Paint was made with white lead, linseed oil, turpentine and pigment and the level of sheen could be adjusted by changing the ratios of oil and turpentine. Read our blog to find out what to do if you discover dangerous lead paint in your Victorian home

Victorian paint had varying levels of durability

Paint colours tended to have varying levels of durability, with pale shades yellowing over time and vivid colours like blue taking on a green tint – this was due to the addition of the linseed oil. Distemper, made from ground chalk bound with animal-based glue, was tinted with pigment. 

It was cheaper than paint and was quick to apply on large surfaces, but it was neither washable, durable or suitable for areas that were heavily used: it was most often used on ceilings in a creamy off-white shade (never the brilliant white that is often seen today) and allowed the painted areas to ‘breathe’ without trapping moisture.

While we have come to think of Victorian interiors as dark and gloomy places, in the 1840s colour schemes were surprisingly restrained – pale tints of lilac, buff and salmon were common alongside the stronger shades that echoed colours found in nature, reflecting water, gemstones, heathland and the sky.

Architectural features were highlighted with colour

Architectural features were picked out with colour – wall decoration would be broken up by painting above a dado rail and wallpapering below it to create drama and contrast in a room. 

Mouldings at the top of rooms were often highlighted in rich shades. In the 1850s, it was fashionable to have coloured ceilings – even in modest homes – or to have the plasterwork and ceiling roses picked out in colours. 

Principal rooms often wore shades that offered a suitable backdrop to a gallery of pictures or a collection of objects – rich crimsons or bright reds, lilacs and dark shades – while in bedrooms, drawing rooms and libraries, shades of green were often favoured, particularly sage.

White woodwork appeared alongside the Queen Anne-style of interior décor popular in the 1880s and 1890s and was used to enhance the rich colours of the period and also to best display the advent of domestic electric lighting. Even then, brilliant white wasn’t available until after World War Two, so the white shades would have been creamy tones.

If you are getting set to give the interior of your Victorian home a lick of paint, read our blog for six projects to kick-start your Victoian home renovation

Colourful paint was used outside the home too. Read our blog for eight tips for painting the front door of your Victorian home

Finding specialist insurance for your Victorian home

If you’re lucky enough to live in a Victorian home you’ll want to keep it well protected. 

For a swift no-hassle quote, call the Victorian home insurance experts on Adrian Flux on 0800 369 8590 – 81.5% of all customers receiving an online quote in August 2022 could have obtained a cheaper quote over the phone.

You could get an even better quote if you take a combined building and contents insurance policy. Read our blog to find even more ways to save money on your home insurance.

Providing a more detailed look into the Victorian Home

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