Victorian blue – the use of blue in 1900 interior decor

When most of us think of ‘Victorian colours’ browns, darks reds and greens spring to mind, but not blue.

Even The Victorian Society’s book on ‘The Victorian House’ (usually very spot on!) said: ‘Very few blues are evident in the Victorian colour cards that survive, which suggests that blue was not extensively used in the Victorian house.’

However, analysis of original paint schemes and wallpapers in my house revealed different. In fact, blue was all the rage, darlink!

A staggering nine out of the 12 rooms in my house in the 1900s had blue painted walls or wallpaper with a blue background!

At a time when there was much dirt and pollution, blue must have felt a very fresh and clean choice around the home.

Unlike the dark earthy colours we associate with the 19th century, blue can be a vibrant or calming colour depending on which tone you choose.

My house had examples of dark, mid and light blue schemes and here are the highlights.

Victorian blue – light is right

My recreated parlour paper of the 1890s has a lovely duck egg blue background and paint analysis of my ceiling beam shows the Victorian owners went to the effort of finding a light blue oil paint to match.

Victorian blue wallpaper historic paint beam border historic reproduction

Furthermore, my second bedroom’s wallpaper of c. 1905 also had a similar blue background (this is available to buy from here).

Edwardian wallpaper chapel street rococo rose
Me with my 1905 bedroom wallpaper

Whilst the Victorians had their favourite colours like we do now, light blue distemper was popular in service areas as it was believed to dispel flies and it didn’t yellow from coal fire and gas light pollution like white distemper.

Many National Trust country houses showcase this paint trend.

Victorian blue distemper pantry larder Lanhydrock National Trust

I also found traces of this blue distemper throughout my house, particular in the smallest bedroom and my hallway.

Victorian blue distemper paint walls
Original blue distemper in my hallway
Victorian landing hallway restoration blue distemper
Restored hallway with matt light blue walls

The darker side

In constrast, I found a more vibrant mid-blue oil paint in my third bedroom, showing the Victorians could be daring.

Victorian bedroom mid blue paint paint analysis Edwardian cast iron radiator linoleum

Furthermore, this was also an expensive colour being priced at six pennies a foot more than ‘ordinary colours’ such as brown and stone, according to a 1911 builder’s guide.

However, mid-blue was a colour that did tend to yellow if used as in an oil paint form, hence the fact this colour looked green when I found it. See my related post on this.

Finally, I was most surprised to find this dark blue oil paint on my scullery walls in the 1900s.

Dark blue paint reference NCS S7020-R80B S-7020 R80B

It is likely this oil paint would have been the same mid-blue as the third bedroom. However, the varnish applied to give it extra protection made it this navy blue tone that is so on-trend in modern interiors!

I decided to replicate the lighter 1920 colour scheme in this room as the dark blue colour would have made this small room with little light seem like a prison cell!

This modern interior-designed room has exactly the same blue tone as my scullery in the 1900s.

period home incrhrya paint walls modern NCS S7020-R80B S-7020 R80B

Have you also found lots of old blue paints and wallpapers in your Victorian or Edwardian house?

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  1. Actually I have. I have a coal miner’s terrace built in about 1899/1900 as far as I can tell. Where I have stripped off wallpaper, I seem to mostly find a pale blue distemper. It’s frustrating as it’s very difficult to paint over. Sadly I haven’t found any interesting remnants of old wallpaper, only some foam fake-tiles in the bathroom and blown vinyl in the hallway. 🙁

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