Help Stamp Out Beige – Decorating Dollhouses With Intense Colors


The first part of the title was the tag line in a paint manufacture’s advertisement in the 1970s, touting a new line of vibrant colors. “You no longer have to settle for ‘pallid paints,'” was the punch line.

I got to thinking about that advert while thumbing through a stack of old Better Homes & Gardens at a yard sale. Which led to wondering why so many miniaturist are a bit timid about color, almost as fearful as some of my interior design clients. Which led to thinking about Victorian dollhouses. How’s that for a stream of consciousness.

The Victorians certainly weren’t afraid of color. The CCC rule – compatible color combinations – was seldom observed. Do the following image search on the Internet: “Victorian Painted Ladies San Francisco”. Be prepared to be amazed at the whacky color combinations that come up.

Or take a cue from the residents of Atlanta in the 1870s. The Civil War left the city in ashes. Those that could afford to rebuild their spectacular early Victorian homes did so with the flourish of a defeated people who refused to be conquered. If you visit Atlanta, take a history tour to see some well-maintained masterpieces.

The Queen Anne style of Victorian houses became popular in the 1880s, which coincided with the development of synthetic pigments. Vivid blues, greens, purples and yellows were now possible. Multi-hued schemes accentuated the corbels and columns, or the fish-scale shingles under the eaves. Ornate friezes painted in both light and dark colors, stood out in sharp contrast against backdrops of darker shades.

Technology created other new materials and production methods, and the cost of ornamental elements dropped. Architects and builders applied decoration liberally to houses, creating styles that no one had ever seen before, combining features from different eras with their own flourishes.

Are you fired-up yet about a Victorian dollhouse being your next project? If so, you first have to decide: Which Victorian?

The era lasted from about 1840 to 1900, and historians agree – more or less – that the following individual styles evolved:

Italianate

British Arts and Crafts movement

Gothic Revival

Italianate

Jacobethan

Neoclassicism

Gothic Revival

Painted ladies

Queen Anne

Folk Victorian

Renaissance Revival

Romanesque Revival (Richardsonian)

Second Empire (Mansard Style)

Octagon Style

Stick-Eastlake

Industrial Architecture

Research these styles and pick one that speaks to you. Don’t forget the interiors. The owners of a twenty room mansion could indulge themselves in twenty different styles. Or mix and match within the same room. To quote Cole Porter, “Anything Goes!”

Now you have a big-picture decision about color: Do you want your project to look as bright and new as it did on the day the painters packed up and left? Or do want to put some “age” on the dollhouse, giving it the look of faded gentility. Both are authentic; it’s a personal choice.

So fear not! If your next project is a Victorian, you can be as subdued, (but not all the way to beige, please). or as lavash with color as you want. Some might question your taste, but no one can accuse you of being historically inaccurate.

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