Considered by many to be the epitome of all that is desirable for the interior design ideas (and, incidentally, the exterior too), the Georgian period has a great influence on how we arrange our homes today and is, in fact, the basis for the currently popular English country house style. A combination of perfect proportions, symmetry and harmony is hard to resist for long.
Covering a period of about a hundred years from George I’s accession to the throne in 1714, Georgian style represents the sum of several highly diverse, imported styles, the homogenization of which produced a high point in English decoration. This style in turn was re-exported, influencing, in particular, the newly established colonies in North America.
At the start of the period, rococo was all the rage in France and to some extent in the rest of Europe. With its rampant, florid, asymmetrical lines featuring such motifs as scrolls, shells, flowers and ribbons – in fact, anything which could be represented by a curve – it had many admirers, not least the French court, the font of fashion in Europe.
In England, however, there were other forces at work. The Grand Tour, undertaken by many a well-heeled gentleman to enrich his cultural knowledge of the world, meant that continental ideas, especially those espoused in Italy – a ‘must stop’ on the trek – were given an airing back home. The Earl of Burlington was one who made the trip. An architect, he was much influenced by the work of Andrea Palladio in Italy, and upon his return to England did much to popularize this classical style of architecture.
The clash of these two very different styles could have meant an awful compromise. Instead the best of both was retained and the result was magnificent. The straight lines, symmetry and control of the Palladian style served to restrain the more excessive fluidity and glitz of the rococo interpretation. In turn the French delicacy and freedom of line lifted the rather constrained classical style.
To these two important influences were added two more, Gothick (the ‘k’ denotes the revival period) and chinoiserie. Every age draws upon the past and this was no exception and, with the increased availability of furnishings from the east, oriental taste also crept into the currency of English decoration.
One outstanding feature of the period was that, through the genius of people such as Robert Adam and William Kent, the designs of interiors were, for the first time, indelibly linked with those of the exterior. Classical pediments, plinths and pilasters all found their way indoors to become common interior embellishments.
Overseas trade and increased wealth led to a demand for a more sophisticated lifestyle. Rudimentary plumbing (running cold water at ground level and basic waste disposal) became available, as did better heating and illumination in the homes of the nobility and merchant class. Lower down the social strata it was a very different story, a fact that can be used to great advantage when planning a Georgian style interior today. It is not necessary to inherit a grand country mansion together with a substantial budget before considering the adoption of Georgian style. All you need are rooms of pleasing proportions and a knowledge of the materials and styles adopted by the average household of the day. A modern-day natural floor covering, such as jute over a quarry tiled floor, will serve every bit as well as a precious Aubusson carpet on ancient wood.
As with the interior styles of other ages, it was the development of materials and skills which greatly influenced the changes in interior fashion. The use of hardwoods (mahogany in particular) and the refinement of glass production meant that early ‘heavy’ designs gave way to more delicate styles.
Rooms were dominated, as ever, by practical considerations. The need to keep warm and to introduce as much light as possible meant that considerable thought was given to fireplaces and windows.
Mirrors were also an important feature, reflecting and increasing what natural light was available and, at night, candlelight. Practical though these elements were, it did not mean that they had to have a utilitarian appearance. Fireplaces were surrounded by the grandest of treatments in fine marble, mirrors framed with intricately carved, gilt moldings and windows dressed either with beautifully paneled shutters or curtains hanging from delicately worked, wooden pelmets. In addition, doors (often double) were fielded, ceilings molded and walls frequently paneled.
Not only was this a golden age of architecture and decoration but furniture making too was at its height. The designs of Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton are legendary and constantly revived. No wonder, then, that elements of Georgian style have endured and are as popular today as ever.