Jane Austen is renowned for providing scant details on the physical aspect of her characters. She barely gives us a hint of what her protagonists look like, and spends very little time describing the clothes they wear. Equally, although she does give a fair account of the architecture of some of the stately homes in her novels, she rarely goes into detail when it comes to interior design.
Nevertheless, Austen’s lack of interest does not reflect what was happening around her. While she ignored such matters, new ideas were blossoming, and the phrase “interior decoration” entered the English language for the first time.
The Father of Interior Design
Thomas Hope was a merchant banker whose love of the arts led him to develop a successful career an interior and furniture designer. Born in 1769 into a wealthy family of Scottish bankers established in Amsterdam, the young Hope spent his Grand Tour visiting large chunks of Europe, Asia and Africa, where he discovered classical art and architecture and amassed a substantial collection of artifacts.
After settling in London, this man of fashion decided to devote himself to his passion for furniture, art and interior design. As well as creating flamboyant interiors for his family and the offices of the Hope & Co merchant bank, he began to write books on the topic, which would go on to become some of the most influential of his time.
A New Blend of Ancient Styles
Hope’s favoured style of décor was an unashamedly flamboyant mix of styles and elements. He mixed the Regency’s neoclassical style with elements from Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Turkish, Persian, Indian and Chinese architecture and decorative arts.
Never one for minimalism, Hope’s interiors typically included three or more of the following: spectacular columns, ancient marble statues, decorated Greek vases and Egyptian urns, alongside plenty of fringed curtains in intense colours, generous mirrors, and contemporary paintings and sculpture. Here is one of Hope’s designs for a “closet or boudoir”, or a woman’s private sitting room:
Closet or boudoir fitted up for the reception of a few Egyptian, Hindoo, and Chinese idols and curiosities. The sides of this Lararium are formed of pillars, and the top of laths, of bamboo. Over these hangs a cotton drapery, in the form of a tent.
One end of this tabernacle is open, and displays a mantle-piece in the shape of an Egyptian portico, which, by being placed against a back ground of looking glass, appears entirely insulated. On the steps of this portico are placed idols, and in its surface are inserted bas-reliefs.”
Thomas Hope, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration.
The Crystallisation of Hope’s Vision
Hope’s eclectic and colourful taste was on show in his lavishly decorated London and Sussex properties. His London residence, on Duchess Street, just off Portland Place, was inspired by Egyptian design. The house, which is still standing today, soon became known for its spectacular interiors, which included an Egyptian Room, a Vase Room, and a Statue Gallery (now unfortunately lost).
The Deepdene, Hope’s countryside refuge in Dorking, was equally grand. The property had the added benefit of fabulously manicured gardens, which also influenced Picturesque landscaping. Unfortunately, The Deepdene was demolished in 1967.
A Miscellany of Fabulous Regency Interiors
The publication, in 1807, of Hope’s much-acclaimed title, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, made Thomas Hope a household name. The book essentially defined what Regency style was, and had a significant impact on contemporary tastes.
I imagine Jane Austen rolling her eyes at being shown the lavish rooms and intricate décor that feature in the pages of Hope’s book. On the other hand, I am sure P&P’s Caroline Bingley, S&S’s Fanny Dashwood or MP’s Mr Yates (who makes a few appearances in Miss Price’s Decision) would have admired the fringed curtains, glazed vases and gilded columns very much.
But I shall let you decide whether Austen would have liked Thomas Hope’s interiors or not. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can access the full volume online.
Do you like the Regency style when it comes to interior decoration? Is there a Regency interior trend that you particularly appreciate or dislike?
To know more:
Thomas Hope & the Regency style, Victoria and Albert Museum. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/thomas-hope/
Household Furniture and Interior Decoration. British Library. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/household-furniture-and-interior-decoration