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The age of Victorian style

By Kevin Oguoko | January 15th 2015

Kenya: Attention to detail and opulence is evident immediately after going through the thick, wooden revolving doors of Nairobi’s Sarova Stanley Hotel.

The hotel’s lobby is a mixture of bold colours, ornately curved furniture and generous use of personalised accessories previously owned by colonial power figures. Spread out on the white and black tiled floor are green leather sofas, curved-leg coffee tables and help desks with brass lamps on them.

The golden walls are plastered with black and white photos in vintage frames, lit individually by brass lamps.

Built in 1902 as the first luxurious hotel, Sarova Stanley borrowed heavily from the popular Victorian style that had swept across the colonies during Queen Victoria’s reign.

“The Victorian style dates back to 1837, during the reign of Queen Victoria, hence the name. There are influences from Europe especially from Paris and France, it is generally luxurious and dramatic and ornate,” says Peter Lybese, an interior designer with 10 year experience in Nairobi.

He adds: “Victorians saw the world change before their very eyes, they dreamed of escape from what was sprawling dirt, vice and crime. They created a heaven away from all that. A scene from a Victorian home is always cosy.”


This luxurious influence of Victorian design is slowing making its way into the country’s architectural and interior design industry.

Last week, Twitter was awash with photos of Karen’s Bel Air Country Homes Estate, where the late Fidel Odinga lived with his family. The estate features two-storey homes with attic dormers and walls painted in Victorian-style white.

Homeowners went out of their way to create large fancy homes. In each room, the Victorians wanted a testament of luxury and good living.

Victorians liked rich dark colours like ruby, emerald, forest green and navy. They also used to give a feeling of indulgence. They avoided purple and pale blue,” says Peter.

As Peter further explains, bold colours was used to denote rooms of high importance such as the dining room or library, while less bold colours were used in rooms such as the kitchen.

To achieve the Victorian touch in this modern age, interior designers combine various design aspects of a Victorian home with modern living design aspects.

“To create a balance between the beauty and opulence of Victorians and the functionality of modern day living, modern furniture and materials must be included in the design scheme,” says Peter.


He adds: “For modern Victorian style, we use bolder colours on the accent walls. We may use off white on the majority of the walls to have more light.” Since they preferred use of dark colours, Victorian homes rarely used white on the interior.

As Peter explains, dark colours meant dark interiors and therefore use of extra lighting. With modern living aimed at energy saving, use of white colours in modern Victorian styles is encouraged to provide natural lighting in a home and hence low energy consumption.


Victorians with a more refined taste went for wallpaper in place of paint to achieve a more refined style. The wallpaper had more variety in terms of patterns and texture feel.

Today, according to Peter one can still achieve this traditional luxurious and tasteful flair through the use of wallpaper with textures and patterns of damask.

Rich colours such as black and gold commonly used in traditional Victorian homes, will give an extra Victorian flair.

Good wallpaper does not, however, come cheap. In Nairobi, at stores such as the Hyundai Home Art outlet and Tile and Carpet Centre on Mombasa Road, wallpaper goes for Sh2,200 – to Sh10,000 per square metre depending on the quality.

For a Victorian theme home, Fred Muchiri, director at Makai Creations and Interiors, advises one to place carved wooden pieces everywhere possible.

“Wooden patterned furniture adds a classical feel to a home. The colour of the wood should however, be preserved at all times,” says Fred.

“As much as the Victorian style is associated with opulence, Victorian furniture is not considered comfortable,” says Peter.

He adds: “They are good for centre pieces in the interior space. Try to combine traditional and modern furniture to create an elegant interior.

The combination according to Peter may include pairing a vintage wooden table with ultra modern chairs or sofa sets for the modern Victorian touch.

Another great way according to Fred would be to re-upholster an old Victorian-style sofa with modern fabric or modern chairs with Victorian-style fabrics, such as floral fabric. For the floor, Fred advises homeowners to choose good quality, mid-toned floor boards or parquet with interesting patterned area rugs.

“The area rugs shouldn’t cover the whole floor. Leave a border around the edges showing the polished floor borders,” says Fred.

As in the Stanley Sarova’s lobby, use of decorative mouldings, ornaments and wall arches are used to create the Victorian look.



Victorian kitchens have however, become obsolete in the modern age rendering most of their design concepts irrelevant.

However, there are basic concepts that can add Victorian flair. “Work islands are popular today. The basic concept of a kitchen table in the middle of the space was conceived in the Victorian age, where working tables in the middle of the kitchen were popular,” says Fred.

For a contemporary look with a traditional twist, use of subway tiles is encouraged.

According to Ronald Omyonga, an architect based in Nairobi, there are many variations of Victorian styled homes. “A Victorian house is conventionally two storeys tall, often with an attics which creates extra room,” says Ronald.

He adds: “A lost art is the use of a wide front porch looking into the street. That has been eroded by issues of security. Kenyans don’t like their entrances to be so wide and welcoming.”


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