The Prince Regent
Prince George, later George IV, had a predilection for opulence and extravagance and his palaces and fashions reflected this. He spent vast sums of money on lavish interiors, commissioning work from the major painters, architects, designers and interior decorators of the day.
The taste of Prince Regent helped to establish the style of Regency Classicism as we know it today. Evolving from Neo-Classicism, Regency takes its influence from classical Rome, Greece and Egypt, but with greater accuracy and understanding of the ancient empires. It is also inspired by the French Empire style as well as the revival of other French favourites such as Rococo.
Regency styling and architecture is seen most notably in London in John Nash’s work in Regent’s Street, Regent’s Park and his Versailles inspired, Buckingham Palace. Regency architecture is characterised by white stucco facades, columned entrances with black front door, bow windows and cast iron balustraded balconies. The sweeping grandeur and elegance of the style is seen in crescents and terraces in Brighton, Hove and Cheltenham as well as Pimlico and Mayfair. The work of architects Sir John Soane (the Bank of England), Decimus Burton (Royal Botanic Gardens, London Zoo) and Benjamin Wyatt (Apsley House, London) are also prestigious buildings and public places of the Regency period.
Egypt, Greece & Rome
The Regency style in interior design is now summed up by ‘elegant furniture and striped wallpaper’. The striped wallpaper is said to be based on Egyptian reeds, Egyptian tastes being very much in vogue at the time thanks to Napoleon’s campaign and the archaeology and discoveries made there. Other major influences include Ancient Greece and the architecture of imperial Rome. Designers would incorporate Greek forms such as shields or the flower-like anthemion into the designs of chair backs or music stands. Imperial Rome inspired heavy, substantial furniture, lightened by more delicate motifs and ideas from sculpture. The use of scrolling leaves and flower heads can be found in chair back and leg designs and drapery found in Roman statues was imitated in everything from marble carving to wallpaper designs.
Classical friezes were also popular and a dramatisation of a Greek tragedy would be featured on buildings as well as everyday objects and wallpaper borders. The revival of Rococo, a style seen in the first half of the previous century brought back curved forms, rocks and shells. Naturalism also found its place in the 1830s in brightly coloured ceramics – teapots designed to look like seashells and bulrushes and vases painted with flowers with handles modelled in naturalistic branches.
Thomas Hope the furniture designer was one of the period’s major influences on interior design. He was the first to propose that an interior should be ‘stylistically harmonious’ with the rest of the building. Interestingly, this was the beginning of when furniture was left in situ, as opposed to being pushed to the walls at the end of the day. Layout of furniture was symmetrical giving a balanced feel to the room. Furniture took classical forms such as the Grecian sofas, which resemble a scroll. Other features included sabre legs, rope back chairs, X-shaped legs and round tables. Convex and concave looking glasses were also fashionable. Exotic woods such as zebrawood and rosewood were used and brass inlay embellished the piece.
Windows and walls
Window treatments were either plain muslin or elaborate swags and tails with fringes, cords and tassels galore. And walls were painted in deep reds, browns, blues, yellow, lilac and acid green. Paint effects were also fashionable such as simulated marble and wood. Classical friezes and drapery were also seen in wallpaper design.