Victorian Intimacies

November 28, 1993

Ninety-two years have elapsed since the death of Queen Victoria, of whom it was said: "She received a crown that had been tarnished by ineptitude and vice; she wore it for 63 years, and made it the symbol of private virtue and public honor."

As the British Empire waned, so did Victoriana. A worlcaptivated by the fast-moving industrial age and entangled in the wars of -isms found Victorian architecture archaic, its interior decoration stuffy and its ideas and mores pretentious and sanctimonious. Much of Victoriana, from furniture to facades, was discarded as outdated.

But guess what? Victoriana is back.

"The Age of Innocence," Martin Scorsese's visually sumptuous adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel on New York society life in the 1870s, is a movie success. Victoria magazine, just five years old, has a circulation approaching 900,000. Victoria's Secret catalogs are now the voyeurs' dream and the Bombay Co.'s scaled-down imitations of Victorian furniture sell like never before.

Resurgent Victoriana even has received the imprimatur of the White House. Arkansas designer Kaki Hockersmith has just completed a $396,429 redecoration job of the Clinton family quarters with neo-Victorian touches of bold colors.

"The decor is not restrained, to be sure," the New York Times reported. "In place of the pale green spackled walls that Mark Hampton designed for the Bushes in the Treaty Room, Ms. Hockersmith has gone in for unadulterated Victorian."

Old House Journal, which follows changing trends in restoration, observed recently that finding Victorian items used to be difficult. Recently, though, sources for reproductions, from tin ceilings to medallions and hardware, have multiplied. Victoriana no longer is desired only by renovators but increasingly by suburbanites who have bought a modern replica of a Victorian home.

The year-end holiday season has always shown Victorian

interiors at their most opulent. Victorians liked oddities, contrasting colors and clutter. They thought of themselves as very modern. So, apparently, does the Clinton family in the redecorated White House. "Their taste is very today," Ms. Hockersmith observed. And very yesterday, too.

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