Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Victorian Home Office

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as a home office. Or at least there was no single room that bore that name. In the humblest households, all the work of running the home was done by the woman, and her workspaces were scattered about, often carved out of spare space. She had separate areas for her main tasks—cooking, cleaning, ironing and sewing—but the nerve center of her operations was the Victorian version of the computer: the chatelaine, that brass or silver ornament that held pencil and paper, penknife and scissors, needle and thread handily at her waist.

victorian home
{Image courtesy of}

Her well-heeled sisters didn’t have it much better. They might have a writing desk or escritoire in the bedroom or—later in the century as posh gentlemen’s clubs reared their vainglorious heads—a place to work in the library while the husband of the house was out on the town.

The Victorian library, which sometimes also functioned as a schoolroom, office or study, tended to be decorated in a somber manner befitting its function. Furniture was simple, colors were dark and the prime focus was on the artful and efficient display of books, whether they be rare and beautifully bound collector’s volumes or the popular tomes penned by novelists like Twain and Dickens.

home collectibles
Photo by Jaimee Itagaki

When designing her home office, Marcia Sola wanted, like the Victorians, to balance the artful and the efficient. Two ways she did were selecting the perfect drapes and desk.

The drapes in Marcia Sola’s home office are high on looks and low in cost. For about $300-$430 for the discount fabric and $130 for rods and tiebacks—she turned two plain windows into elegant and opulent focal points.

The drapes get their good looks from the combination of three fabrics that play off the wall colors: a burgundy undercurtain made of shimmering taffeta, a pink-and-white toile and a brown and blush floral.
“I layered the fabrics to get a fuller effect,” she says. “They do actually close, but I never draw them. I use the shades to provide privacy.”

Gathered gracefully in a pocket rod and looped back over rosette-style tiebacks, the draperies look like vintage ballgowns.

The library table remains one of the better choices for an office desk because it is so versatile. Simple and stylish, it is perfect for a laptop or computer because it has a spacious flat top. When it is not being used for office work, it can be used for other more leisure purposes: It makes a great dining table, baking or food prep table (buy a heavy pad to protect its surface) or a buffet sideboard.

Then again, you may actually want to use it for what it was intended: a place to read a book or two—hardback, paperback or even electronic.

by Nancy A. Ruhling
Photography by Jaimee Itagaki

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