By the early 1800s the development of architecture was greatly affected by the rapid growth of industrialization in western Europe and eastern North America. In England, major cities were linked by canal, and steam was used to power mills and factories. The increased mechanization and improvements in dye techniques resulted in more affordable textiles. Wallpapers could now be mass-produced, and the quality of plate glass meant that fewer glazing bars were needed.
Special machinery could produce finely detailed joinery and there were advances in the production of metal for building. Early forms of heating from steam or hot water piping appeared in private homes. There was gas lighting and the first ball-cock lavatory cisterns. Additional libraries were built and more newspapers and magazines became available. All this gave the country greater power abroad and more money to spend at home. This new found wealth was, to a large extent, transferred to bricks and mortar.
This Industrial Revolution created a demand for architects to plan new types of buildings and to devise new construction techniques. The new wealth was well spread around the country, and residential areas sprang up not only in London but in many other areas as well. New building techniques using brick and stucco instead of Portland stone helped to keep prices down. Spas and seaside resorts were popular, and homes were planned for leisure and to maximise the feeling of light and space.
Sir John Soane made a small building seem larger by opening rooms vertically through two or more storeys, by exciting effects of light, and by the use of mirrors. In his role as an architect, Soane was noted for his inventiveness and restrained symmetry, qualities that were evident in his own homes in London and Ealing.
It was the great merit of the architects of the day, of whom John Nash is the most celebrated, that they realised that if chaos was to be averted, all future developments must be considered as part of one rational and carefully considered plan. It is this preoccupation with the total mass that gives to the best Regency architecture its impressive vistas and slight theatrical air.
The style was equally successful when applied on a smaller scale. The numerous villas erected at this time, with their delicate ironwork balconies, ingenious bow windows, and coats of attractive stucco, made them some of the most charming small buildings in the history of English architecture.
Many Regency houses and terraces had plain stuccoed walls, relieved by curved bays and cast-iron balustraded balconies. But in a new style, the Picturesque, architecture was regarded as part of the landscape, and the pleasing effect of irregular grouping and broken skylines was used to produce picturesque compositions.
Humphrey Repton’s ‘Italian villa’ style Sheringham Hall was grouped with masses of trees to provide pleasing prospects of the nearby sea. At Brighton, John Nash used oriental domes and minarets to create an exciting skyline.
For the most part, however, the Regency style was an appreciation of Classicism in a pure, simple form, with less emphasis on fussy decoration than in Robert Adam’s interiors. Ancient Greece and Egypt were the main sources of inspiration.
The French influence was also evident in Regency style, as the Napoleonic Wars did not stop French and English designers from visiting each other’s countries. Elements of the Empire style were apparent, and the introduction of Egyptian elements into English interiors was a direct result of the British navy’s victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Napoleon’s retreat from Russia prompted a wave of Russian eagles on English furniture, mirrors and silver.
Decorative paint finishes were fashionable again, along with sophisticated wallpapers such as flock, moiré and papers simulating decorative effects. Clouded ceilings were now very fashionable.
Fitted carpets were in general use. Persian carpets were admired, and serge or baize druggets were used to protect good-quality carpets from dirt and general wear and tear.
The exuberant and dominating character of the Regent himself led to more lavish display of gilding and more dashing use of colour. Formerly blues and greens in pastel shades were most commonly employed, but now tints like terracotta and maroon were applied to the walls, while for curtains and upholstery sulphur yellow, royal blue and crimson, embellished with wreaths, stars, cornucopias, lyres and sphinxes were used. Full-blooded yet intellectual, aristocratic and slightly vulgar, the Regency style was sufficiently paradoxical to be perfectly in tune with the age which gave it birth.
Regency Style in brief:
- A new interpretation of Greek style with more emphasis on classical form;
- Low ceilings, plaster walls painted deep colours or papered with small repeat patterns, stars, small wreaths;
- Fabric sometimes used to create tented rooms;
- Painted finishes in vogue simulating marble and wood graining.
Regency Furniture and Fabrics
The Regency furniture style, a neo-classical style, was fashionable in England, along with its French counterpart, the Empire style. The Regency style was named after the period from 1811 to 1830, when the Prince of Wales served as Regent for King George III before becoming King George IV in 1820. Most Regency furniture combined Egyptian, Chinese and Gothic motifs with neo-classical elements.
The Regency style was elegant, particularly the chairs, which were usually low (some of them inspired by the Greek klismos), with curved backs, brass inlay and sabre legs. They could either be upholstered or have caned seats with squab cushions. Chaises longues were popular, and the fashionable sofa was the Grecian couch, with roll-curved ends, bolster cushions and carved feet. Stools based on the Roman curule were also popular. In 1826 spiral-spring upholstery was developed, which gave deeper and springier stuffing and a softer feel to upholstery.
By 1830 striped cotton or linen upholstery and loose covers were much in evidence. Upholstery was almost permanently protected by loose covers. It was fashionable for the chairs and sofas to be upholstered in the same colour as the curtains. Rich chintzes were often used, with the main motif featured on the back of the chair. Leather was used for the library and dining chairs, and satin and damask for sofas.
Regency Furniture and Fabrics in brief:
- Elegant furniture, especially chairs;
- Sabre legs, brass inlay, penwork;
- Couches with scoll ends;
- Greek and Egyptian influences;
- Damask, striped silks, glazed fabric, taffetas, stripes.
- Sulpher yellow, crimson, deep green, royal blue;
- Powerful colours often used with tints of their complimentaries;
- Red very fashionable;
- Carpet colours were chosen to harmonise with the walls, the curtain fabrics were paler than the walls, upholstery was co-ordinated with the curtain fabric, and furniture paintwork was chosen to match the background colour of the wallpaper or the walls themselves;
- Green popular for drawing rooms and libraries, and was also used
- for wood and ironwork, screens and blinds.
- Elaborate curtain treatments;
- Swag tails with fringes, cords and tassels.
- Improved by newly invented oil lamps;
- Candelabras, chandeliers and torcheres in use.
Regent’s Park Terrace, Carlton House Terrace, Buckingham Palace, Brighton Square, The Royal Pavillion, Ickworth, The Soane Museum, Castle Coole Northern Ireland, Stratfield Saye House, Apsley House.
© Adrienne Chinn - London