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Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Victorian Home: Bedrooms (Part 7)

Posted By on October 28, 2013

By the time of the Civil War the fashion in furniture had moved toward matched sets of furniture called “suites” which were sets of furniture for a room all designed together, having the same type of wood, carving, stain, shape, etc. This trend was  evident in bedrooms, where the bed, night table, chests and dressers and other pieces of furniture would have been matched in homes trying to be at all fashionable.

Of course, most homes could not afford to fill every room with the expensive new furniture out on the market. And since the public downstairs rooms were given higher priority, many times older pieces from the parlor would be moved up to fill in bedrooms.

Walls. The colors chosen for bedroom walls were based on how much light the room received. A sunny room would likely have been given a light pastel color, while rooms with shadier northern exposures were given darker jewel tones.

Flooring. Wood floors were favored over carpeted ones, although sometimes the floors would be painted. Carpet pieces or area rugs would likely be used near the bed; this strategy made it easier to keep the room and rugs clean as they could be removed and cleaned and brought back.

Ceiling. Ceilings on second or even third stories were (and are) often not as tall as first floor ceilings, so the  ceilings were kept simple and usually painted a soft shade that was lighter than the rest of the room.

Windows. While many rooms in the house had elaborate and heavy draperies during the Civil War, in modest homes the bedroom window coverings were kept lighter. They might have been trimmed in lace or tied back during the day to allow light in. Wooden window shutters, sheer “glass curtains” or other layering pieces may have been used to adjust the amount of light, air and privacy that a bedroom received, but as most bedrooms were not on the ground floor this was less of an issue than the downstairs rooms.

Furniture. Many of the furniture sets were wood with some kinds of carving; some were hand painted or hand stenciled.  The metal beds we think of as Vicotrian beds really did not come fully into fashion until well after the Civil War, when an awareness of germ theory made people question having pest-attracting wood in teh bedroom and switched to easier to disinfect metal beds. Most bedroom sets included a bed, a large dresser with a mirror, a washstand. Additional pieces were available in most styles to include things like armoires, nightstands, chests of drawers,  and chairs if your available space and budget allowed.

The three basic pieces from an 1860s bedroom set: the bed, low dresser with mirror, and wash stand.

Decorations. The decorative items found in bedrooms in this period were largely practical items that were made to look more decorative. Grooing and dressing items, jars, bottles, combs, fans, parasols, hats, purses. Men also needed a variety of tools such as buttonhooks,  combs, shoehorns, collar buttons, cuff links (none of which were permanently attached to men’s clothing in this era), pocket watches, pocketknives, walking sticks. And because bedrooms are the most private spaces in most homes and not viewed by general visitors, they were likely the most personalized room in the home.

Lighting. Candles were certainly used, the fireplace added somewhat to light, but kerosene lamps were the most high-tech form of lighting in most homes. Ceiling fixtures were not usually used in bedrooms, with lamps being the predominate lighting.

Function. Sleeping, dressing, grooming, reading were the main functions of a bedroom.


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