Before and After: An 1890s Victorian Living Room Gets a Bold-Yet-Respectful Redo

published Aug 7, 2023
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Victorian-style homes, with their rich, romantic color schemes, more-is-more architectural details, tall ceilings, and ornate molding are back in a big way (150 years after the style was popular in the U.S. the first time around!). This living room redo, in an 1892-built San Francisco home, blends those indulgent Victorian details with more modern touches.

“The living room was a very drab gray color before we started this project,” designer Joelle Belmonte (@getfreemodel) says. “It didn’t reflect the light well and just felt devoid of personality.” There were things Joelle loved about the room, though. Namely: the luxurious ceiling height, the fireplace with its hand-chiseled marble floral mantel, the Douglas fir wood floors, all of the original molding, and the bay windows that let natural light trickle in.

“An agent that I work with quite often, Eddie O’Sullivan, got ahold of this listing and brought me in to help restore and modernize this duplex while still paying homage to its deep, rich history,” Joelle says. “Ultimately, we got started on renovating this duplex in order to appeal to modern buyers and continue to keep the charm of the neighborhood.”

Credit: Freemodel
Credit: Freemodel

So how did Joelle blend modern and Victorian styles? With , for the most part. Most noticeable is the ceiling, which she painted teal (Benjamin Moore’s Peacock Blue). She also painted the molding and ceiling rose to match. “I love how a simple pop of color really can do a lot of the work,” Joelle says, adding that it’s one of the changes she’s most proud of in this redo. 

“The whole look of the ceiling paired with that original fireplace pays homage to the Victorian-era peacocks and florals,” Joelle says. The fireplace didn’t need much work, but the original plaster walls needed a bit of TLC. “Plaster is very difficult to make repairs to and requires an expensive specialist, so we opted to paint over some cracks while ensuring that all the walls were still safe.” Joelle selected Benjamin Moore’s Cloud White for the walls. (The bold teal ceiling color helps “to draw the eye away from nicks and scratches,” too, Joelle says.) 

Credit: Freemodel

Because old plaster can easily crack, Joelle and her team also chose to go for a battery-operated light and bulb combo that didn’t require any electrical rewiring. They kept the old chandelier canopies (the circle that the light pole connects to) and spray painted them to match the more modern brass light fixture from West Elm. This saved thousands of dollars, Joelle says. 

“This was my first project working with those beautiful old plaster rosettes that are on the ceilings above the light fixtures,” she says. “This was also the first time that I’ve worked with chandeliers where we could keep the original canopies to make sure that they worked right. Additionally, this was the first project where the natural floor finish worked really well and was not in need of a stain or further treatment.” (Not having to stain the floors also saved lots of money, Joelle says.)

Credit: Freemodel

One last bit of money-saving advice from Joelle for anyone else restoring an old Victorian home: If you don’t want to fully replace the windows, a bit of wax or WD-40 in the tracks will help the existing ones glide a little more easily.

Joelle’s takeaways post-Victorian reno are twofold. First, proceed with caution around plaster. “Double-check the safety and condition of any plaster walls, and be very gentle with old homes,” she says. And second, “be BOLD,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to do something different with ceilings, as they are the most untapped walls in a room and can always be changed.”

For more beautiful Victorian home inspiration, check out this lavender-walled Victorian in Oak Park, Illinois, this plant- and pattern-filled London Victorian, and this bay-windowed beauty in San Francisco.

Inspired? Submit your own project here.