The History of Home Decor

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Wallpaper was a luxury item until the 19th century,

Home decoration began when artistically inclined cave dwellers painted pictures on their walls but it only really came into its own in the 18th century, when luxury items started to become affordable for ordinary people. Until then, the beautiful house had been the preserve of the nobility and the very rich, for whom elegant hand-made furniture and ornate draperies were a status symbol.


Ancient Rome

The Romans enjoyed displaying their wealth through their homes and lifestyles. Houses and place inhabited by the well-to-do, such as banqueting halls, were decorated lavishly with wall morals and mosaic designs on the floor. Romans often had their furniture custom-built to accommodate their exacting needs. Classic Roman furniture, such as tables and chairs, often had clawed feet. The Romans also liked to relax and put their feet up on high quality soft furnishings made from expensive materials.

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Renaissance Design

Carpets were a luxury only the richest people could afford in the 16th century. Too expensive to put on the floor, they were often hung on walls or over tables. Other rich people hung tapestries or painted cloths on their walls. People covered the floors with rushes or reeds and sprinkled them with sweet smelling herbs, which they strew with sweet smelling herbs. Four-poster beds were popular with the rich in England because the bed-curtains kept out the cold.



The early modern period in the 18th century, with its increase in international trade and new educational opportunities, marked the beginning of consumerism. Wallpaper, rugs and even pianos became more affordable. Rooms were decorated in light colors; floral schemes were a typical wallpaper choice, patterned carpets were popular and the rich owned comfortable upholstered furniture. Books were displayed ostentatiously, as they were still expensive and indicated that their owner was rich and cultured.


Mass Production

The 19th century saw the advent of mass production, which meant that more people could aspire to make the house beautiful. Flock and velvet wallpapers were fashionable in the middle decades. These heavily patterned papers were in shades of green and burgundy. Furniture was solid but comfortable, and usually made from oak or mahogany. Furniture was sometimes upholstered in the same pattern as wallpaper, for unity of theme.



The post-war years saw another renaissance in interior design but the emphasis was on the modern, rather than traditional. The fashionable American couple hosted cocktail parties and shiny modern appliances such as refrigerators became part of the decoration scheme, along with plastic melamine dinnerware and coffee tables.


Class Distinctions

Home decoration was the preserve of the nobility and the very rich, until the emergence of the middle classes in the 18th century. Ordinary people working as laborers or craftsmen lived in shacks with one or two rooms. Furniture consisted of basic stools, benches and tables and they slept on mattresses stuffed with straw or thistledown. Common dwellings focused on function and basic necessities rather than aesthetic considerations.



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