Chazz is an Interior Decorator/Consultant/Retailer, amateur photographer, cook, gardener, handyman, currently restoring an 1880 Victorian.
What the Victorians Can Teach Us about Saving Energy with Style
This page focuses on the common-sense ways that Victorian interior decorating took advantage of natural phenomenon to increase comfort -- and to do so beautifully and in keeping with the Victorian aesthetic.
Many of us view Victorian homes through modern eyes and neglect to live in them with the awareness of natural elements that the people of that era had. We look at many aspects of the Victorian home as purely decorative but ignore the practicality of many Victorian interior design and home decorating elements.
This page will introduce you to a few of the most effective energy conserving Victorian interior decorating preferences that were practical as well as decorative. All of these complement the environmentally aware design and construction of period 19th century homes and are easily adaptable for use today. In fact, if you use draft dodgers, for example, you are already using some decorative items that were popularized by the Victorians.
See Optimizing Energy Efficiency in Victorian Houses for a more architecturally based look at maximizing energy savings in old houses.
Keeping Warm in The 1800s
Heating during most of the 19th century was primarily from fireplaces and stoves that used either coal or wood. The best of these were designed to allow air intake that radiated more heat into a room and to minimize smoke.
Dampers regulated the escape of hot air and ornate cast iron grillwork in front of the fireplace opening (see photo on right) not only kept sparks at bay but held and radiated heat from the burning embers into the room.
Old houses were purposely designed with smaller spaces and features like pocket doors between rooms to limit the space to be heated and to retain that heat within the space. In addition to shuttered windows and draperies that could be opened to allow the warmth of sunlight to enter and closed against the cold and winds, draperies were commonly added to doorways in Victorian homes tor more options in regulating air flow and comfort levels.
We have found through our own experience that just by opening and closing pocket doors and draperies we can keep our house warmer at a much lower cost than before we learned (through trial and error) how to manipulate these features to take advantage of the inherent energy saving and heat retention (and alternately, heat dispension) qualities they were designed to provide.
Enter the Portiére - Victorian Floor Length Doorway Draperies
The above photo shows a variety of Victorian portiéres.
From Left to right:
(1) A William Morris burgundy Sunflower printed velvet with a golden buff tassel fringe trimmed self valance backed by a
(2) gothic manuscript print topped with a silk gold and burgundy striped (attached) valance with coordinating embellished fringe. The burgundy velvet faces the main foyer. The second side faces a Victorian Gothic library/study.
Next (3) is a single panel of Scalamandre trompe l'oeil printed velvet in a green stripe. This fabric is printed to look like fringed drapery and we just love the whimsical nature of this. The panel is topped with a valence of the swags section of the same fabric that is shaped to follow the design;
Finally (4) is a scrumptious cut silk velvet parlour portire in a deep rich green topped with a vintage European needlepoint valance with gold metal fringe that originally was most likely used on a church altar.
The Victorians loved fabric and draperies embellished pianos, mantels and tables for purely decorative reasons but they also used draperies for very practical considerations. One of these included hanging double sided draperies in doorways. Portiéres, as these were referred to, blocked drafts and kept heated rooms warmer.
The use of portiéres dates back to the middle ages. They were used in drafty castles to keep the heat from the fireplace in a room. American Colonial and early American homes had rooms that were smaller and had doors, so portiéres were seldom needed. With the high ceilings and larger rooms favored by the Victorians, as well as their love of all things gothic and penchant for decorative elements and luxurious fabrics, portiéres regained popularity.
How to Hang Portiéres
for Energy Efficient Victorian Home Décor
Portiéres were an important part of Victorian and even early Arts & Crafts home décor for aesthetic as well as functional energy-saving reasons. Portiéres were hung on brass or wooden rods set inside the door frame or on brackets attached to the frame or next to the frame on the wall.
Drapery panels were attached with rings or looped metal chains that could be slid to open and close the panels or they might be hung in a stationary fashion and opened or closed by pulling the drapery to one side and securing it with a tieback.
Portiéres were made of heavy fabrics, with velvet being the most frequently used. Heavier damasks, tapestries, epingles and needlepoints were also popular.
Each side of the double sided panels would be made of a different fabric to complement the décor of the room or area the panel was facing. This way one rod could be used to hang one set of draperies that would give a different effect on each side. If a room had more than one doorway, each would be hung with a portiére in different fabrics. Coordinated mixing of fabrics and patterns, not matching, was the fashion in Victorian interior decorating.
Colors and Other Options
By the late 1800s, maroon with buff, crimson or olive were favored combinations for portiére panels. Deep greens (think Scarlet O'Hara's dress) and dark browns were also popular color choices. Flannel linings were sometimes added between the two faces for additional warmth. Appliques, embroidery, tassels, fringe and trims provided additional decorative interest.
Occasionally, in larger, wealthier households, more elaborate portiéres, as shown in the accompanying photo, would be hung on both sides of a door (usually on either side of the large sliding pocket doors between the parlour and dining rooms.)
I like to think of portiéres as Victorian storm doors and they are, in my experience, even more effective and far more attractive.
By closing shutters and draperies on the cold side of the house and opening them in the morning on the warm side of the house you can capture the warmth of the sun's rays and prevent radiant heat loss through the colder side. (The reverse works to keep a house cooler and comfortable in warmer weather.)
Portiéres were generally taken down for the warmer months or replaced with purely decorative lighter panels in silk or open work macrame with beads, but for now we are concerned only with the use of functional portiéres.
Other options for functional portiéres included Turkish (Oriental) carpets and reversible ingrain carpets. The advantage to these types of hangings is that they were heavy, came pretty much ready-to-hang as-is and, in the case of ingrain carpets, had two faces (or "right" sides) and did not require backing as they were double or triple layered by nature of the weaving process used to create them.
Learn More about Victorian Drapery
Shutters and Window Treatments
More than Just Decorative
Older homes commonly had interior or exterior shutters. Due to relatively cheap heating during most of the 20th century, shutters were often removed. (Ironically, as functioning shutters were removed, purely decorative representations of shutters -- often sized improperly for the windows they flanked -- came into use.)
Recent research, however, has confirmed what previous generations knew was true. Window shutters are highly effective in reducing heat loss. Specifically, wood shutters were found to decrease heat loss from a window by 50 to 60% -- even more than double glazed replacement windows!
In addition to interior and exterior wood shutters, Victorians were fond of wooden Venetian blinds and multiple layers of window draperies. These extravagant and luxurious window treatments also went a long way toward making rooms cozy by blocking the cold air and keeping the warm air inside.
By manipulating the layers and opening and closing them according to the location of the sun and direction of the wind, you can increase (or decrease) the temperature of your home's interior. Combined with the effective use of double hung windows and transoms this is a practical, natural way to increase the comfort level and decrease the energy used in your home.
Just drawing the curtains at night can save an additional 15% of heat loss through windows. Add a single layer of drawn draperies over closed shutters and you've got up to a 75% reduction in heat loss!
Shop for Shades, Shutters and Draperies to Save Energy and $$$
More Victorian Style Help with Door and Window Drafts
The Victorians also used "Draft Excluders" to improve the energy efficiency of double hung windows. They would make these out of remnants (often left over from portieres or drapery panels) sewn into a sausage shape and stuffed with sawdust, beans or gravel.
These were placed across the bottom ledge of windows and, in the case of double hung windows, also across the middle where the top and bottom sections met. If a doorway lacked a portiere a draft excluder would be used to block any draft seeping under a closed door.
During the late 1800s, Draft Excluders were usually made from heavy maroon red fabric. Today, we know these as Draft Stoppers or Draft Dodgers and they come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, and designs. Prices vary widely but they are very easy to make on your own if you want to give it a try.
Lighting for Warmth
Another way to create a feeling of warmth to your home is to create more intimate lighting. Do not underestimate the warmth that can be created by the golden glow of light from a fireplace, candles, oil lamps and even using reproductions of antique (pre-1920) lightbulbs will add a warm ambience and a cozy feeling to your home.
Many of us don't realize that not all areas had access to piped gas in the Victorian era and candlelight was used for most activities in the majority of households throughout the period. Although the actual heat generated may not raise a room's temperature as measured by a thermometer, it does raise our perception of heat. That is, we actually feel warmer in the presence of certain types of lighting.
The Warm Ambience of Old Fashioned Lighting
Cold feet? The Bare (Floor) Facts
Wood floors are gorgeous and intricately inlaid wood floors are a particularly prized feature in some Victorian period homes. However, they are not very helpful when you want to keep warm in the wintertime. Victorians realized this and they layered area rugs on their floors in the colder months.
Area rugs helped keep rooms (and toes) warm and created a warmer looking space, which psychologists and other scientists have now proven can actually make us feel as if the temperature is 5 to 10 degrees warmer than it actually is!
The warmth and comfort provided by soft durable area rugs can be a considerable addition to your overall comfort level and the energy efficiency of your home.
For the summer months or in warmer climates, the wool rugs would be cleaned and stored away and the floors would be either left bare or covered with lightweight rugs woven of natural plant materials.
Heat Between the Sheets (G-rated)
Bed Warmers, Foot Warmers, and Hot Water Bottles
Stay warm and save energy without electric heaters and blankets by taking a few cues from our 19th century predecessors. Stoneware pottery foot warmers or hot water bottles (carefully) filled with boiling hot water from a kettle on the stove were used for warmth indoors as well as for sleigh rides in the snow.
Take a hot water bottle to bed and create a thermal envelope that will keep you comfy until morning. When you awaken, you can use the now tepid water in the bottle to water plants.
Copper or brass bed warmers filled with hot coals from the fireplace and run between bedsheets will also create a toasty warm cocoon to retreat to at bedtime.
It won't take the place of a partner to snuggle up with, but it will make it cozy for one and possibly even cozier for two."
Learn More About Victorian Energy Saving Savvy
and how you can maintain and maximize the energy saving features inherent in the design & construction of Victorian houses.
Proud to be a Victorian Era Lovers Topsite
© 2012 Chazz
Although we use computers today instead of dip pens - We'd still love to hear from you
Chazz (author) from New York on December 12, 2018:
Thank you, Ellen. Glad you liked it.
Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on December 10, 2018:
Another beautifully written, informative article.
Chazz (author) from New York on May 23, 2015:
Thanks, June. Glad you're here too!
KonaGirl from New York on May 21, 2015:
So glad to see you and hear from you again Chazz!
Chazz (author) from New York on May 20, 2015:
Thanks for the compliment and for taking the time to write. Appreciate it and glad you enjoyed the hub.
KonaGirl from New York on May 20, 2015:
Many from this generation of prone to over consuming without thought can take lessons from the Victorian's. Well written Chazz!
AlleyCatLane on February 03, 2013:
Another great article! I love reading your interior decorating articles. They are so informative and packed with historical facts too. Blessed!
Gayle Dowell from Kansas on January 24, 2013:
I always enjoy your decorating lenses. This one is so useful! Blessed.
Michey LM on December 04, 2012:
Great history facts, I really enjoy it! Blessings!
chris1402 on October 27, 2012:
grandma knew best !
Tony Bonura from Tickfaw, Louisiana on September 12, 2012:
Great information, Chazz! I did indeed enjoy this lens. Just like with every other era through history, the people did what they had to in order to survive within the limits of their technology. The Victorians had a lot more technology than say the American Indians, but the first Americans mostly survived harsh conditions in spite of their stone age technology.
whiteskyline lm on August 31, 2012:
Really nice page with great information
smorse28 lm on August 28, 2012:
I love the Victorian style...grew up in an old Victorian house and it rubbed off on me!
livingfrontiers on May 20, 2012:
I think this a great connection, and making use of a large home, by heating only areas that you use is a great idea. Love the wood shutters...
Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on May 03, 2012:
I love Victorian -- very nice lens with good ideas. Hmmm..maybe I'll close off our dining room in winter.
blue22d on May 01, 2012:
Another fun lens to view. I do believe I must have lived before. I just love the Victorian style homes.
anonymous on April 08, 2012:
It's also good to see this in hotels in Quebec city.
poutine on February 25, 2012:
Very different style than today's uncluttered one.
AJ from Australia on February 12, 2012:
Brilliant and useful information. Thank you.
yayas on February 08, 2012:
I have spent a great deal of time reading this page about the Victorian Style of energy efficient winter decorating.tactics. I am told that the home I live in is a Sears & Roebuck Kit House, 1906 featured design an' built in 1907. I'm unsure of the design style. We have high ceilings an' bay windows, with four bedrooms upstairs, a bath that used to have doors opening into three other areas an' four rooms downstairs, including a foyer.
One curious an', I find beautiful, aspect is the ceiling in alla' the downstairs rooms. It is like 2"x4" boards, rounded at the sides where they meet an' close-fitted. There are no pocket doors, but there are glass-paneled doors at both exits from the living room. There's also a huge chandelier in the dining room. That, along with covered porches at both the front an' back 'uh the house make it an ideal home, in my opinion.
At one corner of the house, where there is a Bay Window, the outside sports one 'uh those fancy pointed, round sections. Sorry, but I dunno' what they are called. I may not know all the technical terms, but I sure love my home.
Thank you so much for your visits to my Scavenger Hunt In My Grandmother's Attic an' Children Afflicted With Autism pages an' for Blessing them both. I have sure enjoyed reading your pages. I'm learning quite a bit.
anonymous on February 07, 2012:
Chazz, you have an awesome lens, I can tell you put time in it and it shows. Have a wonderful day.
anonymous on February 05, 2012:
Very nice info
dahlia369 on February 02, 2012:
Simply beautiful and very stylish!! :)
nelsonkana on January 31, 2012:
Thanks a lot for this informative lens.
mantele11 on January 30, 2012:
great information. thank you
Rebeljohn on January 29, 2012:
Very nice info thank you
JoyfulReviewer on January 29, 2012:
I love Victorian décor. Thanks for sharing so many wonderful ideas and helpful information.
girlfriendfactory on January 28, 2012:
Your lenses are always so unique and well thought out! I just love perusing them for helpful tidbits! This one is no different and can be found among the other blessed lenses at Flyby Wingings They may call me an aimless wanderer, but not all who wander are aimless and I'm glad I wandered upon this! ~Ren
lesliesinclair on January 26, 2012:
Those doorway draperies are an excellent idea. I love victorian style houses.
anonymous on January 25, 2012:
I love all kinds of decor so I was really interested in your tips
Barbara Walton from France on January 25, 2012:
What a super, informative and useful lens. As an artist who's keen to enjoy the good things in life, I've always had to economise, and more recently I feel more and more that waste is morally wrong so I put into practice some of the things you mention. A door curtain and thick, lined window curtains left open to gather heat from the sun and then closed as soon as temperatures drop really help. I live in France and love my shutters, not common in England although I can't for the life of me think why not. I also love my wood-burning stove. Not practical in cities, but I use it to heat water, to cook on and I have glazed bricks to warm the beds.
Brandi from Maryland on January 24, 2012:
This is a wonderful lens. I absolutely love old Victorian homes. I enjoyed reading this! ;)
KjRocker LM on January 22, 2012:
very well managed lens .thanks for share
Katie Harp on January 21, 2012:
blessed by a squid angel :) <3
grannysage on January 21, 2012:
I never thought of all these things as something we could do today. Very informative and interesting.
YsisHb on January 21, 2012:
Even if I do not like Victorian style decoration I admit that you have done an excellent work. The tips you present are both aesthetic and practical. The tips on saving energy can apply to different kinds of decoration
norma-holt on January 20, 2012:
Gorgeous lens and very well presented look at the past. *Blessed* and featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012. Hugs
a1kitchendesign1 on January 20, 2012:
A great lens -many thanks.
Gayle Dowell from Kansas on January 20, 2012:
Great practical yet charming lens. Very well done. Blessed.
Image Girl on January 20, 2012:
great lens and lovely images. As a Steampunk fan I always love Victorian things, and I discovered a lot of new information too!
Deb Kingsbury from Flagstaff, Arizona on January 20, 2012:
Very well done and interesting. I love the Victorian style, but the few old Victorians I've been in have been quite drafty and cold. They should put your suggestions to use.
dellgirl on January 19, 2012:
Wonderful lens, it is very interesting! I like it.Congratulations on making featured lenses on Popular Pages.
Septamia on January 19, 2012:
The value of things and Victorian homes to me that all things have personality.
This is very exciting.
sheezie77 on January 19, 2012:
Another great lens! Thumbs up
cleanyoucar on January 18, 2012:
Anything that makes your home look good and make it energy efficient gets my vote.
Deadicated LM on January 18, 2012:
I always wanted a house like the one pictured in your intro; I love Victorian, great job on this Lens.
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on January 18, 2012:
This is an excellent article. Having experienced some Victorian home elements when I was a child, I can appreciate what you have highlighted here. I was always partial to those cast iron heating features. Have always loved wood shutters, too. Did not realize how effective they are in retaining heat. Thanks for expanding my knowledge. Always appreciate energy efficiency.
MyTimeAlone on January 18, 2012:
I would love to build a new victorian from the ground up with all of the new energy saving techniques that are available today.
beckyf on January 18, 2012:
Enjoyed your lens very much. :)
justholidays on January 17, 2012:
Excellent trip in the past and also a reminder that, whatever the type of home we use to live in nowadays, we can adapt those tips in order for us to save on energy bill and decorate the home at once.
Netlexis LM on January 17, 2012:
Great lens and a lot of good info. I'm kind of partial to that dalmatian draft stopper. He's awfully cute, even if I don't have draft.
flycatcherrr on January 17, 2012:
Excellent information for old-home owners - and inspiring, too!
cdevries on January 17, 2012:
Excellent and period-correct advice on warming up a Victorian house. Thanks!
macsquared on January 17, 2012:
I spent a few years, growing up, in a true Victorian-era house on the New England coastline. It had been fitted with forced hot air heat, but even with that it was a large drafty home (that blowing air from the vents certainly made it draftier!) Installing these window- and doorway-treatments surely would have helped warm that place up! Definitely good tips, I'll keep these in mind should I end up in a cold, drafty home again!
SquidooPower on January 17, 2012:
Very interesting stuff.
knit1tat2 on January 17, 2012:
A very nice lens and well explained. Having lived in cold climates in drafty old houses, I've been forced to use some of these ideas, and they are very effective! Wish I could afford to adapt even more of these ideas!
Frischy from Kentucky, USA on January 17, 2012:
I have been fascinated with the Victorian era since childhood. I never thought about their decorating being energy efficient. I have lived in old homes of this era. They are great in the summer, but in the winter they are cold and drafty. I bet if we had added these features to our decorating, those old houses would have been a lot more comfortable in the wintertime. Good to know if I ever find myself living in an old house again! And of course, many of these elements can be used in newer homes. I made use of draft dodgers in my 1950s ranch, for sure!
ngio64 on January 17, 2012:
Very informative, blessed by a Squid Angel.
ViJuvenate on January 17, 2012:
Of course. This explains so much about the times, and it should have been an obvious thing. I appreciate the education on the connection between décor and the weather prior to readily available electricity. Not being a fan of heavy décor and small rooms from the Victorian era, I can now much better appreciate it. Thanks!
curious0927 on January 17, 2012:
Practical with some really Pretty ! Thanks for the tips and the beautiful lens. So inspiring! Congrat's for making the "Front Page" , You've been Blessed!
Alisha Vargas from Reno, Nevada on January 17, 2012:
What a great lens! I've done many of these things to keep my home warmer on less of a budget, but never realized the Victorians did the same things.
Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on January 16, 2012:
Beautiful lens I enjoyed so much. Thanks for sharing. Folks who live in these Victorian homes will be so grateful to find this lens. Liked and Pinned.
Ram Ramakrishnan on January 16, 2012:
Elegant, eco-friendly, epochal ideas.
MaryQuinlin on January 16, 2012:
Very interesting information and history!!! I love the character of Victorian homes!
MaryQuinlin on January 16, 2012:
Very interesting information and history!!! I love the character of Victorian homes!
Rusty Quill on January 16, 2012:
Very interesting lens - and a nice dip into history. It is interesting how many elements can still be carried over to modern energy efficiency improvements.
Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on January 16, 2012:
This is a great lens with a lot of information and beautiful pictures.
KarenCookieJar on January 16, 2012:
Good practical ideas & I love Victorian style!
jimmyworldstar on January 16, 2012:
I don't live in a Victorian era house but this is still interesting nonetheless. I'm surprised that their fireplaces were basically covered although I know it's because of the need to keep embers from escaping and probably lighting the entire room on fire. Nowadays, hanging curtains from doors seems pointless but was decorative and energy efficient for them.
AliceAdventures on January 16, 2012:
Great lens! I love Victorian decorating!
KevCooper on January 16, 2012:
You can't beat the old ways, we're currently shopping for a portire for our front door.
sherridan on January 16, 2012:
Had never occurred to me that this style (which I favour in my period home) might be energy saving!
shoefiend on January 15, 2012:
love the style of the home and learned a lot about efficiency great lens
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 15, 2012:
Victorian style is really elegant.
lasertek lm on January 15, 2012:
Learned a lot from this lens. Thanks for sharing.
Pat from Midwest, USA on January 14, 2012:
I lived in a Queen Anne and it was the most lovely, comfortable place I've ever lived.
Margaret Schaut from Detroit on January 12, 2012:
Beautiful page! We forget how our forebears had to do so much to keep themselves warm in those big gorgeous houses. Terrific reminder!
Angela F from Seattle, WA on January 12, 2012:
I knew they were beautiful but I had no idea Victorians were an energy efficient style. Great lens!
Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on January 12, 2012:
I love the look of old Victorian homes. Thanks for sharing your expertise in decorating your home in an energy efficient style. This was an excellent, informative read!
traveller27 on January 12, 2012:
Beautiful lens and a great job!
Barbara Tremblay Cipak from Toronto, Canada on January 12, 2012:
You did a fantastic job with this lens. Lots of detail. If I ever had a Victorian home to decorate I would have to use this lens as a guide.
burntchestnut on January 12, 2012:
I don't like dark, heavy curtains, but do know they help keep the hot sun out and provide a layer between a cold window and your living area. Instead of turning up the heat in the whole house, I light a candle in the bathroom a half hour or so before taking a shower or keep the candle lit all day if it's really cold. You need to keep the door closed, but you'd be surprised how warm the bathroom becomes. Of course, make sure there's nothing nearby that can catch fire.