Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Victorian Home: Dining Room (Part 8)

Posted By on January 20, 2014

“The elegance with which a dinner is served is a matter that depends, of course, partly on the means, but still more upon the taste of the master and mistress of the house. It may be observed, in general, that there should always be flowers on the table, and as they form no item of expense, there is no reason why they should not be employed every day.” Mrs. Isabella Beeton, 1861

Walls. During the middle of the nineteenth century, warm colors dominated the decoration of dining rooms. And most likely, that would have been a shade of red. Wallpapers began their long reign of popularity in homes in the dining room. During this period the wallpaper would have been from celing to the baseboard. The more elaborate schemes of walls divided into sections (chair rails, wainscoting, etc.) came later.

Ceilings. Ceilings were a bit more elaborate in dining rooms than the rest of the house. They might be tinted witha color of paint, wallpapered, or had medllions or other decorations applied to them.

Flooring. During the Civil War, dining rooms were mostly carpeted, using large patterned designs with floral or geometric motifs.

Windows. Elaborate window treatments were the rule during the Civil War. Layers of different kinds of window treatments would be piled on top of one another. Most typically, sheer lace curtains were place against the window itself and were often called “glass curtains” for that reason. On op of that floor length draperies made of velvet, brocade, or other heavy fabrics would be added with tie backs.  Patterned and ornately decorated valances would go on top of the whole thing, along with tassels and ropes and heavy rods. Even more modest homes would likely do some form of all this in the parlor and dining room  if nowhere else.

Furniture. By the 1850s, the style of dining furniture that became popular was called Renaissance Revival. This furniture featured turned and fluted legs, raised or inset burled panels, heavily carved finials and crests, inset marble tops, and cookie-cut corners. Many pieces are further decorated by black and gold incising, marquetry inlay and bronze or brass mounts. These pieces were often gargantuan – ideal for the Victorian “more is more” philosophy. The preferred wood was walnut. As in other rooms, sets or suites of furniture were specially sold. a huge, elaborate sideboard (or more its facsimile in modest homes) was the starring piece.

Decorations. Like the other rooms used for public entertaining, the dining room was a symbol of the status and class of the family. Laces (especially lace tablecloths), decorative objects, silk cording  and all sorts of other items were used to convey this sense of achievement.

Lighting. Candles were certainly used, and ceiling chandeliers were mostly candle powered.  Wall fixtures or sconces were very commonly used in dining rooms.

Menus. Cookbooks and housekeeping books from the mid-nineteenth century are full of chapters devoted to sample menus, with many offering a suggested menu for every day of the year. The following is from Mrs. Beeton’s Guide to Household Management (1861) and offers a “dinner menu for January for six people:”

First Course: Julienned Soup, Soles a la Normandie

Entrees: Sweetbreads, with Sauce Piquante; Mutton Cutlets with Mashed Potatoes

Second Course: Haunch of Vension; Boiled fowls and Bacon, Garnished with Brussels Sprouts

Third Course: Plum Pudding, Custards in Glasses, Apple Tart, Fondue a la Brillat Savarin


One suggestion for a typical “family” meal for a Tuesday in  January:  1. Boiled neck of mutton, currants and mashed turnips, suet dumplings and caper sauce: the broth should be served first, and alittel rice or pearl barley should be boiled with it along with the meat. 2. Rolled jam pudding.


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