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Interior design through the ages

The Library at Coleton Fishacre, Devon
The Library at Coleton Fishacre | © National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Explore the history of British interior design, from the sumptuous textiles of the Tudor period to the clean lines of the 20th century and discover where you can see examples at National Trust places.

Tudor (1485 to 1603)

The Tudor period covered the reigns of five monarchs, from Henry VII in 1485 to the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. It marked an age of prosperity, money from expanding trade and the gift of land to royal favourites, enabling them to build lavish houses. Dark oak panelling, rich velvet fabrics and wooden four-poster beds are all part of the Tudor style of interior décor.

Typical Tudor features

  • Symmetrical architecture around an ‘E’ or ‘H’ shaped plan

  • Multi-paned lattice work and casement windows

  • Stained glass with heraldic and ecclesiastical motifs

  • Rich oak panelling, plasterwork and stone hearth surrounds

  • Walls adorned with tapestries and embroideries

  • Colours of dark brown, gold, red and green

  • Velvet, damask and brocade fabrics for bed hangings and drapes

  • Decorative symbols of Tudor rose, thistle and fleur de lys

  • Trestle tables, benches, heavy chests and carved four-poster beds

  • Wooden floors, encaustic tiles and plaited rush matting

Examples of Tudor design

View of the Queen's Room, Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk
View of the Queen's Room, Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk. | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

This quintessential Tudor moated manor house has a magnificent gatehouse and accessible priest hole. The rooms show the development from medieval austerity to neo-Gothic Victorian comfort and include displays of embroidery by Mary Queen of Scots.

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Georgian (1714 to 1830)

The Georgian period covered the years from 1714 to 1830, when there were four consecutive King Georges on the throne. Georgian architecture and interiors were known for their elegance and lightness of touch. One of the most enduring styles was Neo-classical, based on Roman and Greek architecture and championed by architects such as Robert Adam.

Typical Georgian features

  • Roman-inspired elements such as niches and alcoves

  • Balanced and symmetrical designs

  • Use of the three Classical columns – Corinthian, Ionic and Doric

  • Stonework, ironwork and marble with motifs such as swags, ribbons, garlands, husks and the Greek key pattern

  • Carved statuary depicting Roman gods and goddesses

  • Classical figures, vases and urns

  • Real and imaginary animal figures such as dolphins, sphinxes, griffins and satyrs, often forming the bases or handles of objects

  • Pastel colour schemes, especially pea green, mauve and pink

Examples of Georgian style

The Entrance Hall at Basildon Park, Berkshire
The Entrance Hall at Basildon Park | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Basildon Park, Berkshire

This Palladian villa was built by John Carr of York and its Neo-classical interiors are in the fashionable Adam style. The rooms include spectacular plasterwork ceilings and classically inspired furnishings such as pier-glasses, candle-stands and tables.

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Victorian (1837 to 1901)

If you spot dark, rich colours and bold prints, chances are you could be looking at elements of Victorian style. Queen Victoria’s reign was so long – from 1837 to 1901 – that it's impossible to describe it as having a single style. The era saw a passion for using and combining many earlier styles in a greater diversity than ever before.

Travel to Japan and India influenced design elements in the home. Mass production and affordable products allowed homeowners to fill their rooms with textiles and furniture. A reaction to this mass production was the Arts and Crafts movement, which was influenced by medieval architecture and led by designers such as William Morris.

Typical Victorian features

  • Gothic Revival architecture such as spires, buttresses, decorative ironwork and pointed arch surrounds on doors and windows, which are more often associated with churches

  • Medieval influences including fleurs de lys, heraldic motifs and quatrefoils

  • Rich dark colours such as ruby red, forest green and dark blue

  • Mass-produced wallpapers including flock and damask styles and large, bold prints of flowers and foliage

  • Heavily carved or overstuffed furniture, including button-back armchairs, sofas and ottomans

  • Patterned, encaustic floor tiles and stained or etched glass

  • Highly patterned fabrics or strongly coloured velvets, festoon blinds and sumptuous window treatments

  • Ornate marble, slate or cast-iron fireplaces, inset with patterned tiles

Examples of Victorian design

View of the Main Hall at Tyntesfield with ornate white carved fireplace with real fire to the left and a pointed arched doorway to the right.
The Grand Hall with its impressive fireplace | © National Trust Images/Steve Stephens

Tyntesfield, Somerset

One of the last surviving Victorian estates in the country, Tyntesfield is a masterpiece of Gothic Revival style, bristling with turrets, towers and ecclesiastical details including the extravagantly designed chapel. Many of the original wallpapers, carpets, fabrics and furniture have survived, all carefully preserved by four generations of the Gibbs family.

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20th century (1900 to 1999)

We look after places that are decorated with some very striking 20th-century interior design. In the years that followed the First World War, the modernist movement, established in Paris, was seeking to reject the excessive ornamentation of the past. Modernist architects and designers like Le Corbusier and Ernö Goldfinger favoured new ideas and cutting-edge technology that could improve the quality of life.

Typical 20th-century design features

  • Emphasis on clean lines, light and space, simplicity and practicality

  • Use of modern materials such as aluminium, chrome, lacquer and inlaid woods

  • Accents of bold colour within white- or cream-decorated rooms

  • Innovative designs for lighting and wall and ceiling light fittings

  • Abstract designs for carpets, fabrics and wallpapers

  • Design motifs including geometric shapes, stepped forms and chevron patterns.

Examples of 20th-century design

View of the Art Deco doorway in the Saloon at Coleton Fishacre, Devon
Art Deco doorway at Coleton Fishacre | © National Trust Images / Oskar Proctor

Coleton Fishacre, Devon

Designed in the 1920s for Rupert D’Oyle Carte, the house contains distinctive art deco decoration, furniture, fixtures and fittings within an Arts and Crafts exterior. The light, stylish rooms evoke the sense of the era with music echoing the family’s Gilbert and Sullivan connections.

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A small round house with diamond-shaped windows in a sunny garden


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