Queen Victoria's reign saw great changes both inside and outside the home. It was the time of the Industrial Revolution and Britain was leading the world in technology. Mass production meant more goods were available to buy. The newly-emerging middle classes took immense pride in homes that they saw as a reflection of their social status.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace showcased many of the new mass-produced consumer products that would be in so much demand for the home. But the Crystal Palace building itself was also a triumph of 19th-century engineering. It was brimming with the latest innovations - iron-frame construction, sheet glass and integral heating. Its use of prefabrication and standardisation would be a pointer to the future. The industrial revolution meant that new techniques such as lamination and electroplating were introduced. It was new technology that drove innovation in Victorian architecture.
Whilst finding technical advances in Victorian architecture is not difficult, finding a single Victorian style is impossible. Nostalgia became the theme. Architects drew their inspiration from the past and enthusiastically borrowed from a bewildering number of established architectural styles.
Regency classicism and the Greek revival continued after Victoria came to the throne, but as her long reign continued, other styles vied for attention. The Gothic Revival gained a powerful grip on the imaginations of architects in the latter half of the 19th century. But this still left plenty of room for Elizabethan, Jacobean, Scottish Baronial and Italianate Romanesque. National pride was running high and this seemed to encourage an admiration for the architecture of previous periods of national confidence.
But through this period came motifs and themes that would define the Victorian age. World trade was opening up, thanks to the power of steam. This also provided greater travel opportunities for those wealthy enough to enjoy it, or for those involved with trade, Empire governance, diplomacy or the military. Travel to places like Japan and India brought back an oriental influence on design. An eclectic mix of styles evolved. Masculine preserves such as libraries and billiard rooms were built in the Gothic style. Rococo design offered a more feminine style that was popular for ladies' bedrooms. Excessive ornamentation was the norm although, part influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Ruskin, flowers, birds and animals were portrayed realistically rather than more stylised versions.
If a Victorian architectural style is hard to pin down, interior design of the period was very distinctive. The colour palette at the time was limited because chemical processes were still being developed. But paint effects such as faux marbling, stencilling, and stippling were most popular. From the 1840s, wallpaper went into mass production. William Morris introduced highly patterned designs for wallpapers and fabrics and these were often influenced by Islamic designs.
But by the end of Queen Victoria’s reign Morris, Ruskin and architect Richard Norman Shaw were, among others, developing the Arts and Crafts Movement and promoting the revival of traditional building crafts and the use of local materials. They were to be followed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Charles Voysey. Through these luminaries some elements of Arts and Crafts design influenced the development of a new style - Art Nouveau. As the Victorian period of architectural imitation began to pall, Art Nouveau offered a new vision. A new age was beginning – the Edwardian era.