Why Does It Look That Way? The History of House Interiors in the Victorian Era and Beyond


    Houses are packed with clues about their history. From floor to ceiling, if you look closely at the details, they may reveal when the house was built and how people lived in the space over time.

    Brownstoner columnist Suzanne Spellen has dived deeply into the history of bathrooms, kitchens, flooring and tin ceilings in a series of articles about historic house interiors. They may help you understand the history of your own space and inspire restoration.

    historic bathroom history modern american brooklyn

    1940s bathroom. Illustration via American Standard Plumbing Fixtures Catalogue

    From Pakistan to Brooklyn: A Quick History of the Bathroom

    Topped only by the kitchen, the bathroom is one of the most important, and therefore most installed or renovated rooms in any house or apartment. Twenty-first-century Americans LOVE their bathrooms. We love them so much, we want to have lots of them. Full baths, half baths, powder rooms, en suite baths, master baths, steam rooms and saunas.

    brooklyn kitchen history modern american historic new england dossier cabinet

    Hooosier cabinet in Castle Tucker in Wiscasset, Maine. Photo via Historic New England

    From Open Hearths to Open Plan: 350 Telling Years of Kitchen History

    The kitchen: It’s arguably the most important room of a home. When we shop for a place to live, the kitchen is the room that can often sell the entire house or apartment, or kill the deal. We spend more money on kitchen renovations than on any other room in the house, and talking about the ideal kitchen can be as contentious as politics.

    interior design history

    History Underfoot: Flooring in the 19th Century Home

    I like to go to open houses with friends who are looking to buy, or for myself, to satisfy my curiosity about places in my neighborhood that I’ve always wanted to see. And hey, you never know…..To me, the best old houses are the ones that no one has touched in years. The floors are covered in wall to wall carpeting of dubious antiquity, or layers upon layers of linoleum.

    tin ceiling history collage

    America’s Imitation Plaster: Tin Ceilings

    As Americans, we can feel patriotic when considering tin ceilings. It’s one of the few decorative elements found in the Victorian Age that didn’t come from directly from England or another part of Europe. They originated in the good old U.S.A., but were inspired by European decor, and from the highest examples of such.

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