One thing I find when writing my Regency Romances, or reading others, is that they invariably have many scenes in a drawing room. And why not, the art of calling on ones friends and neighbors was a central point of many of the Ton’s days. Or when in the country, the men may have been off sporting about the grounds of the great manor house, but our Heroines were back at the house, ensconced, in a drawing room.
Now, I bring this up because when I sit down and am madly typing away, I am much more concerned with what takes place in the scene, then the setting, and this I fault myself for. I have watched enough BBC dramas to know exactly what these rooms look like in my mind. I have visited several of the great houses and know how they look as well. I just take the short cut that relies on my psychic ability to project what I see in my mind's eye to be inherent in my writing and know that my readers need nothing from me to guide them to a similar view.
Now I shall remove my tongue from my cheek. It is easy enough to type with it planted there, but not so easy to speak should I want to hold a conversation.
As I fault myself for not providing enough detail about the rooms, I begin to add either in first draft, or second, details about furniture, and the layout of a room where a scene is set. Sometimes I create detail about the color schemes. But I still fall short, I am sure of it. (Though my action, which takes place often times through dialogue, starts off quickly in these drawing rooms, and my Hero’s being manly men, take little notice of the decor when they are about to offer for the Heroine.)
During the Regency our rooms could be decorated with a few materials, and they could use more than one at a time to ornament their rooms. Prior to our period, in Late Georgian times, the fashionable set would have had fabric hangings stretched between chair rail and cornice. Expensive and opulent fabrics made of silk, velvet and wool damasks.
By the 1770s wallpaper came into general use. These comprised patterned flock and printed designs. As late Georgian merged into our Regency, we see an increase in the wealth of many during the times. Despite the war, affluence was growing. And as it did so, the use of wallpapers took over, though silk and some other fabrics remained a luxury to adorn one’s walls.
The motifs employed were classical, Neo-Grecian, created in bas relief or as trompe l’oeil. The surviving wall paintings from Pompeii became vogue as they were unearthed the previous century. Making a room all over in the theme of Chinese, Turkish, Egyptian of Gothic was quite common, but few of these survive for study.
So before continuing the discussion of wallpapers what we know as they come into their own is that the rooms of the older established houses, whose owners might not have enough of the ready to keep up with the times, will have walls that are painted, or covered with fabrics. That alone can set the tone for your drawing rooms. The Duke of Wellington famously attempted shades of yellow at Apsley House, causing controversy.
Gold, however, was not allowed for your run of the mill members of the Ton, and even amongst the first circle. Save that for Prinny and his brothers.
And by no means do we ever wish to gaze upon the unadorned white wall. That is something that was not done. And though not wallpaper, during our period, as we transitioned from the coverings of fabric, we find entire walls fauxed to look like marble, or fake wood graining. Entire guides such as Nathaniel Whitcock’s Decorative Painter and Glazier’s Guide showed just how to achieve these effects.
By 1790 wallpaper was in common usage, but not necessarily for the entire wall. The chair rail, made of wood, was still a divider of the surface. At the end of the period it might be considered fashionable to remove the chair rail and run wallpaper the entire length of the wall. This was the practice in the 1830s, but earlier the use of the chair rail dividing the upper and lower parts of the wall was still very much the practice.
At the time, wallpaper was designed as we see with block printed patterns on pearwood blocks to produce rolls of 11 1/2 yards in length. In the 1830s the blocks were replaced by mechanized cylinders. In 1783 there is a patent for a machine that will emboss the paper, but there was an import ban on French paper until 1825. When this was lifted it led to lighter, cheaper paper flooding the market. In order to hang the paper, a specialist was needed. It was an art under the upholstery branch. By the 1820s wallpaper retailing was so sophisticated that manufacturers were making their own, illustrated order books. There is a copy in the Victoria and Albert of Cowtan’s Order Book.
Popular designs were often flock paper, with powdered wool, or other fabric refuse on glued patterns to give a cut-pile effect. These were also used for borders. Imitation of marble or dressed stone was often used in hallways or passages (not a drawing room, I know, but my research uncovered this tidbit.) Pin ground papers were used for practical reasons in rooms. Flies would soil the paper and so having this would cover the fly marks. Somehow though, my interpretation of the idealized Ton won’t have dead fly spots on the papers of their drawing room. A good vigorous cleanse by the servants will of course take care of such things. (These are historical novels I turn my hand to, not totally historically accurate novels, but now the vision of one of those not of the First Stare, energetically scrubbing at her wall before someone like Austen's Lady Catherine de Burgh is expected to visit has come into my head and I just may have to use it.)
Gothic papers were available from the manufacturers, bedrooms got ‘moire papers’, which was made to look like watered silk, or to suggest drapery. Floral patterns in bedrooms which had small repeats in the pattern and also used in the rooms of the servants.
For the rich, as was the craze in all things oriental, Chinese wallpapers were sought. These could be hand painted which naturally would appeal to all of the first circle. Understated bragging rights to a pattern that no one else had.
With this exploration of what was done in period, one can easily then take the knowledge and adapt that to building a unique drawing room. Any young heroine given the chance can remodel the wool and silk covered walls of her husbands mother to the more modern wall paper. A trip to look at the manufacturers book, or to speak to a specialist who can procure a one of a kind paper surely can be recounted in a paragraph or two to add to the setting of the next Regency drawing room you read about, or that I remember to write about.
Stephen Calloway The Elements of Style, 1991
Steven Parissien Regency Style, 1992
Susan Watkins Jane Austen in Style, 1990
Mr. Wilkin writes Regency Historicals and Romances, Ruritanian and Edwardian Romances, Science Fictions and Fantasy. He is the author of the very successful Pride & Prejudice continuation; Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Correspondence.
His work can be found for sale at: David’s Books, and at various Internet and real world bookstores including the iBookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords.
He is published by Regency Assembly Press
And he maintains his own blog called The Things That Catch My Eye