Today, traditional rooms that feature adapted Georgian styling are among the upper branches of cultural refinement and set the stage for truly gracious living with an appreciation for time-tested design. Traditional interiors are best suited for formal living and dining rooms, dens and offices and master bedrooms. Formal great rooms also are beautiful in traditional styling.
Furniture styles of the Early Georgian era include William and Mary and especially Queen Anne furniture. William and Mary pieces have turned, spindle legs and often feature matching double arches or hoods that represent their dual monarchy (the only time in English history where king and queen were equal heirs to the throne). Queen Anne pieces have gently curved cabriole legs, pad or slipper feet that were simple and unadorned and gracefully rounded backs with a center splat on chairs. Queen Anne pieces include wing chairs, side and arm dining chairs, dining tables, tea tables, candle stands, low- and highboys and, today, casepieces such as entertainment centers and bedroom suite pieces such as the rice poster bed and Queen Anne bedroom casepieces.
The Early Georgian era also is known as the age of walnut. Cherry wood or finish stain is used more frequently today.
The Late Georgian era spotlighted furniture by English cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale, whose drawing books came to America. His pieces were inspired by Gothic, Chinese or French Rococo designs. The Chippendale cabriole leg is ornately carved with a Chinese claw and ball (the powerful and protecting dragon foot clutching the pearl of wisdom).
Straight legs with block feet were first designed for the Duke of Marlborough and are known as Marlborough legs today. Bracket feet were used in large pieces such as chests, secretaries and bookcases. Chair backs often had an upturned flair called a scholar cap, and the dining chair splat was pierced with an intertwining carved wood lattice design.
Sofas were beautifully upholstered in Italian Renaissance damask (in solid colors such as cream, rose, teal, blue, beige, gold, red and coral) and pillows and upholstery may have lovely trimmings. A few pieces that were heavily upholstered (with skirts, for example) existed historically, but Queen Anne wing chairs, Chippendale wing chairs and camel-back sofas were notable pieces. Today, comfortable overstuffed sofas are at home with traditional interiors as are pieces designed much later in the Victorian era such as large ottomans and club chairs.
Bed ensembles will be lavish. Traditionally, period bedding was not the comforter look, rather pillow-tucked bedspreads or coverlets. Careful, even dressmaker detailing should be seen in ruffles, trims, pleats, etc. Hand-made applique quilts also are an authentic bedding.
Floor and Wall Coverings
Refined wood plank floors covered with Oriental rugs are authentic in both Early and Late Georgian interiors. Today, wall-to-wall plush carpeting, perhaps carved or sculptured, and designer rugs that emphasize the traditional fabric colors and motifs would make wonderful selections.
Early Georgian walls often were plain plaster with a chair rail and crown and baseboard molding, or they were traditional raised-paneled walls stained in walnut or cherry. Often, these two styles were combined: paneling on the lower portion, known as a dado, with a molding called a dado cap (the name for the chair rail when it's attached to paneling) plus crown and baseboard molding.
During the Late Georgian era, plain and paneled walls were painted (sometimes antiqued) in beautiful hues of soft gold or buff, peach or coral, rose or teal. Moldings became much more elaborate with anaglyph (cast plaster) decorations even on ceilings. Sometimes these decorations were painted the same color as the wall, which was somewhat boring. But when painted in white or cream and contrasted with doors, banisters (with white balusters) and furniture in rich mahogany, the effect was spectacular!
As plain walls fell from fashion and favor, special faux finishes such as marbleizing became important. Floral wall coverings or scenic murals depicted events in history or far away places. Floral patterns often were Chinese with a European flair featuring meandering vines climbing upward with a variety of flowers dangling downward from their weight (chrysanthemums and peonies were among the favorites).
Fabric and Colors
Both Early and Late Georgian fabrics include Renaissance damask (each in one color with large woven designs), brocade, some needlepoint and tapestry and printed florals. All are very beautiful and rich. Printed fabrics--today, look for chintz, warp sateen and polished cotton--typically featured a white or cream background with Queen Anne florals (the vine and flowers described above). Sometimes the flowers were much less exotic including those from English gardens such as carnations, sweet william, delphinium, hollyhocks and roses.
Early Georgian colors were subtle variations of the teal, slate blue, rose or mauve colors. These often are referred to as Williamsburg colors. Colors during the Late Georgian era were found in two palettes: the rich, deep jewel tones of the Italian Renaissance including ruby red, topaz gold, sapphire blues, or Rococo and Chinese colors such as rosy red, coral, peach and teal, all trimmed or accented with white or cream.
Window treatments during this period featured top treatments used alone (Early Georgian were simpler, Late were more lavish in comparison). Swags and cascades were very common, as were shaped valances called pelmets (flat, but shaped on the bottom and even the top).
Fringe is important to this style with more elegant, heavy scaled trimmings in the Late Georgian settings. Late Georgian interiors usually had elaborate top treatments and long draperies: straight or tied back, sometimes puddled onto the floor and often edged with fringe. Perhaps the draperies were tied back with rope tassels, but more likely with fabric ties. Beneath the draperies would be straight sheer draperies or Parisian shades, a cross between a balloon and an Austrian shade.
For sunlight protection and extra insulation, two-inch wood blinds are authentic--yes, even that long ago! Raised panel shutters historically were recessed into the deep side walls on each side of the window and pulled closed. Today, any alternate treatment, including horizontal blinds and pleated or roller shades, are good choices next to the window. Elegant window treatments contribute richness and dignity to Georgian interiors.
Today, accessories are very important in traditional Georgian interiors. Room lighting may be simple brass apothecary chandeliers with curved arms and candle lamps (Early Georgian), crystal chandeliers, or Rococo/tole lamps (little lamp shades over candles). Table lamps also may be French Rococo inspired, or ginger jar shapes of porcelain or brass with black, teal, burgundy or linen shades. Chinese and Dutch porcelain, particularly the blue and white Ming or pale celedon style, is authentic.
Chinoiserie items--a brass body and filigree filled in with layers of fired porcelain--are Georgian treasures from China. Silver tea services, fine table appointments together with china, linens and crystal and artwork framed with heavy or elaborate frames (either architectural drawings or a Renaissance-styled still life or botanicals, for example) are lovely choices. Fresh flowers in generous sizes bring the English garden indoors.
Overall, the Early and Late Georgian look is finely finished, complete in every aspect and evokes an ambiance of gentility, refinement and beautiful elegance.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, IDEC, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.