Houses and Furnishings

The choice and decoration of one’s home said a great deal about one’s social position. One was expected to have an estate in the country (preferably in a castle or manor several centuries old), a house in London for the Season (in a fashionable neighborhood, on a fashionable street), and often a rented villa on the Continent.

Taste in furniture was as subject to fashion as clothing, with one exception being anything that displayed your family’s prestige throughout history: paintings, stately beds for monarch’s visits, silverware, any anything with a family crest on it.

Noble establishments were notoriously expensive and difficult to maintain, especially when one factors in the staff needed to keep an estate running and the amount of fuel needed to heat it. Considering how frequently aristocrats entertained (guests sometimes stayed for months), it was difficult to hide any strained circumstances. There were therefore a great deal of politics attached to homes and what was put in them.

"Fonthill Abbey: the Grand Drawing Room" Stedman Whitwell Architect del.; engraved by John Cleghorn. Plate 5 (Published June 2nd 1823 by J. Rutter, Shaftesbury) With permission of the University of Glasgow Library Special Collections. Shelfmark Sp Coll q63.

“Fonthill Abbey: the Grand Drawing Room”
Stedman Whitwell Architect del.; engraved by John Cleghorn.
Plate 5
(Published June 2nd 1823 by J. Rutter, Shaftesbury)
With permission of the University of Glasgow Library Special Collections.
Shelfmark Sp Coll q63.

What’s Fashionable

  • “a house in Grosvenor Street, furnished splendidly, a cellar admirably stocked, a first-rate Dog-Cook and assistants, a set of horses for town, hunters at Melton, and running-horses at Newmarket” (Sayings and Doings, Second Series, Vol. I 153).
  • “no establishment was complete without the assistance and direction of a mistress” (Finesse 1:177).
  • “It is not to be supposed that . . . [a] dealer in Parliament could have fixed his domicile in any other parish than that of St. Margaret, Westminster” (Pin Money 1:124).
  • “As his old house in Great George Street – well fitted for the bustling commoner – was no longer suited to the official and fashionable peer, he had, on his accession to the title, exchanged that respectable residence for a large mansion in Hamilton Place” (Ernest Maltravers 2:68).
  • “Thought the cottage was a very successful imitation of the German Swiss, and the outhouses as closely resembled the chalet of the Alps, the necessity of introducing the family arms and crest, as often as possible, was not forgotten. The arms, surmounted by the coronet, supported the corners of the large pent roof; and on the wicket of the gate – on the locks of each door – on the handles of the drawers, and the knobs of the shutters – on the centre of the table, the backs of the chairs, and the covers of the books – sat the owl on a coronet, the picture of dignified wisdom, and the family crest of their noble possessor” (Dacre: A Novel 1:208).

What’s Vulgar

  • “’you will throw down the déjeûner [luncheon service] of Chelsea china, with which Lady Ormington has the bad taste to encumber her rooms!’” (Cecil 33).
  • “’Is it not a horrible vulgarism . . . to cram a habitable room with little tables, showered over with trumpery, of which one risks the fracture of a hundred pounds’ worth, at every turn? One might as well lay out, for show, one’s stomacher and diamond necklace. Look at my friend Lady Ormington’s confusion of cabinets and tables, rivaling an old curiosity shop, or Weeks’s museum!’” (Cecil 33).
  • “We have actually seen rooms fitted up with sea-green, and an indigo-coloured paper: what complexion could stand it . . . [and] Mrs. Fergusson never would let her daughters visit at Lady Carysfort’s, on account of the unabated crimson of her walls and furniture” (Romance and Reality 1:53).
  • “A Countess living at an inn is a ruined woman” (Vanity Fair 474).
  • “Mr S., to judge from a brass-plate on the door of his hut (it is little better) is a coal-merchant” (Vanity Fair 511).
  • “a profusion of luxuries, in short, far beyond what might formerly have gone to the fitting up of a petite maison for some celebrated courtesan, were here accumulate to impart éclat to a coarse vulgar parvenue, who knew no other enjoyment of money than squandering it to make herself ridiculous” (Self-Delusion 1:251).
  • “There is a vulgarity of sounds and scent inseparable from a small house and small establishment” (Mothers and Daughters 1:163).

Styles of Architecture

  • “’Nothing more deplorable than the decay of a plaster wall! . . . Like a gauze dress, it is a thing not intended for durability, which, when it lasts, becomes a badge of shabbiness and disgrace’” (Cecil 121).
  • “It was “a mansion of great size, and of that bastard, but picturesque style of architecture, called the Italian Gothic” (Vivian Grey 1:109).
  • “’This Hall is bearable to dine in; but I once breakfasted here, and I never shall forget the ludicrous effect produced by the sun through the oriel window. Such complexions! Every one looked like a prize-fighter ten days after a battle. After all, painted glass is a bore; I wish the Marquess would have it knocked out, and have it plated’” (Vivian Grey 1:200).
  • “Before the house of Queen’s Crawley, which is an odious old-fashioned red-brick mansion, with tall chimneys and gables of the style of Queen Bess, there is a terrace” (Vanity Fair 85).
  • “’Really these passages are so narrow, they are the ruin of one’s sleeves. I wish people would build their houses more conveniently’” (Finesse 1:198).
  • Sir Walter “put in French windows instead of Gothic, on which his mother died of cold, or grief” (Romance and Reality 1:30).

One thought on “Houses and Furnishings

  1. Pingback: Silver Fork Etiquette: A Hunterian Associate Project on 19th century self-help fiction | University of Glasgow Library

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