George III suffered from periods of mental instability and, during the last and most prolonged of these, retired from public view while his son, the Prince of Wales, ruled in his stead. The Prince Regent was well known for his sense of style and his interest in lavishly designed buildings and interiors. His official residence in London was Carlton House and over the years he transformed it from an unassuming property into an opulent palace decorated in the fashionable Regency Classicism style he popularised. The Prince Regent was a great patron of the Arts and frequently commissioned architects, designers and craftsmen but, unfortunately, his lavish lifestyle meant that he was often in debt and didn’t always pay his bills.
Many young men of good families spent a year or two on a Grand Tour overseas discovering ancient ruins and studying architecture, art and sculpture. Inevitably they returned home full of ideas for embellishing and remodelling their family seats. Regency Classicism was a visually rich mixture of pattern, colour and motifs from ancient Egypt, Greece and Imperial Rome. Architects copied and developed these ideas and manufacturers produced illustrated pattern books demonstrating scrolling leaves, drapery, Greek key and stylised flower patterns for use in paper hangings, carpets, furniture inlay and decorative plasterwork.
Thomas Hope (b 1769) began to collect Classical art after his Grand Tour. He believed an interior should be stylistically harmonious and applied these principles to his own home, recording his designs in his book of Household Furniture and Decoration. This became a useful source for designers and was the first book to use the phrase ‘interior decoration’.
Regency furniture is elegant, often made of woods like mahogany and rosewood. Veneers were popular as decorative inlays and ornamental details in brass were often used. Chairs frequently had sabre legs and tables were sometimes styled with carved lion’s legs or sphinx’s heads. Rich damasks, striped silks and taffetas were used to upholster chairs and sofas.
Window treatments were elaborate, often comprising heavy silks with swags and tails, tassels and fringing over muslin under-curtains. Curtains were hung from carved and gilded poles. Earlier Georgian colour schemes were restrained, using paint colours such as sage, blue-grey or burgundy but later the most popular colours were paler: sky or Wedgewood Blue, stone, dusky pink or pea green.
As designs became more ostentatious in the Regency era, often influenced by Oriental and Chinese designs, bolder colours came into use: sulphur yellow, crimson, royal blue and strong greens.
In 1815 he commissioned the architect John Nash to begin the transformation of the modest Marine Pavilion into a magnificent oriental palace with minarets, domes and pinnacles on the outside. No expense was spared on the gloriously rich interior with rooms designed for entertaining and even the corridors were opulently decorated and exquisitely furnished.
Flamboyant and sometimes fantastical, the Regency Classicism style still influences designers today.
As an interior designer for most of my working life, Georgian and Regency design has always been one of my favourite influences.
The heroine in my latest novel, The House in Quill Court, is an early interior decorator and wallpaper (known then as paperhangings) designer. It was interesting to use my own experiences as a designer to bring authenticity to a character in my novel.