When you think of England's Regency era, a few things probably come to mind. Extravagance, high fashion, romance, and exoticism: any of these words can sum up the national mood and aesthetics of this era.
For those unfamiliar with this period in history, the Regency era gets its name from George IV, who was chosen to be Regent after his ailing father, King George III, was declared unfit for rule. The Prince ruled as Regent from the years 1811 through 1820, when his father passed away and he was named King George IV.
The Cultural Influences Behind Regency Style
As Prince Regent, George IV was a patron of the arts, and had a major influence on the interior design style, fashions, and architecture of the day. The Royal Pavilion in Brighton was built to be his personal retreat and directly reflected the Prince's tastes as well as the changing world around him.
Regency style is an extension of Neoclassical style from the 1700s, so columns and domes continued to be popular architectural features. Furniture makers of the 1800's also copied Greek and Roman furniture styles even more closely than Neoclassical designers had. Some of the ideas they borrowed included chairs with animal legs, couches with scrolled ends, and decorative lions and griffins.
Napoleon's campaign against the English in Egypt created renewed interest in Egyptian art among Europeans. Motifs taken from ancient Egyptian artifacts were incorporated into both the English Regency style and the French Empire style. The most popular motifs were crocodiles, birds of prey, and sun discs.
Where Neoclassical and Regency style differed was that Regency incorporated more visual ideas from Asia. The British East India Company, established in the 16th century, continued to import goods from China, Southeast Asia and India in the 1800s. Chinoiserie, which we covered in a previous blog, became even more popular in the Regency period.
Before the Prince Regent's time, Chinoiserie style was usually reserved for bedrooms and tea pavilions. But that didn't stop George IV from filling his Royal Pavilion with Asian wallpaper, decorative dragons, paintings of Chinese domestic scenes, imitation bamboo, and lacquered furniture. Meanwhile, the exterior of the Royal Pavilion featured domes and minarets based on Indian architecture. At the time, many visitors found the Royal Pavilion's extravagant Asian decor shocking.
Modern Regency Interior Design
Decorating a home in Regency style today might seem intimidating. However, it can be done if you shop with the right kind of furnishings in mind. For those who don't collect antiques, there are many fine reproduction pieces available.
Regency furniture was usually made of woods such as rosewood, zebrawood, or mahogany, and finished with beautiful veneers. Brass inlays became a popular feature, as did ormolu, or imitation gold. Pieces that were less expensive were often repainted in black lacquer.
While English Regency furniture is not as curvaceous as French Regency furniture from the 1700s, English designers did incorporate some curves, especially in the legs of furniture.
Above, left: This stunning breakfast table by English Georgian America has an intricate, geometrically inlaid tilt top. Go to their website for a closer view.
Above, right: Black painted furniture is commonly seen in Regency style rooms. This Regency style dresser is also available in white from English Georgian America.
Neoclassical tended to have understated color schemes, but Regency style was more flamboyant. This is not a style for someone who doesn't love color.
The Royal Pavilion was heavily decorated in reds, pinks, greens, and gold. If you don't want to work with multiple bright colors in a room, pick just one and design the room around that color. For example, you could complement a pair of blue-and-white china pieces with cobalt blue drapes in the same room.
Many Regency homes will have a bold accent wall with an exotic Chinoiserie pattern. Another option is the stately "Regency stripe" pattern, which alternates between light and dark stripes of the same width.
Accessories are another area where you can add a multicultural touch. In a Regency style room, it's not unusual to see foo dog statues, or Roman busts, paired with European style furnishings. Finally, make sure to have an eye-catching chandelier in any room that needs it. The more unique and spectacular the design is, the better.
When you set out to recreate Regency style in the modern day, there is no need to turn your Dallas home into an opulent English palace. Instead, study the color palettes and furnishing choices you see in modern and classic Regency interiors. By drawing inspiration from what you see in photos, you can rework Regency style into a comfortable environment for yourself or your family.
If you're still stumped on how to combine the many different features of this style, seeking out an experienced interior designer should be your next step.
Written by Caitlin Crowley