Congratulations! You purchased a new apartment and after some overthinking finally decided to decorate it in the Raj style.. It’s lavish, grand and sophisticated.. But do you really know what you want? Tricky question…
Let me start with an introduction to the Raj Style. Formally speaking, it’s the British Colonial style of the late 19th century with significant Indian influence.
Basically, it’s a mix of simplified and adapted to Indian weather and lifestyle features of British Victorian style (the ones which were popular on the great island at that time) with some Indian design elements, picked up from here and there (mostly from the Mughal grand palaces, Indian upper-class houses, and local bazars) by British housewives.
So, if you want to achieve truly splendid Raj atmosphere at your home, here are some simple tips ;)
First and foremost,decide if you want your nest to have more British features or Indian?
Let’s look first on typical Victorian interiors. Can you find 5 common things in it?
Drawing room, 1870, Geffrye Museum, London, UK (Courtesy: geffrye-museum.org.uk)
Drawing room, 1890, Geffrye Museum, London, UK (Courtesy: geffrye-museum.org.uk)
1. The first thing noticeable is overstuffing of rooms with various accessories such as framed pictures, vases with or without flowers and curiosities from all over the world (especially Asia).
2, Furniture is mostly dark colored – of oak, mahogany, teak, walnut… Yes, they used real wood at that time ;) It is quite decorative, plump and heavily upholstered...
3. If you look closer you can notice rich use of ornamentation – almost everywhere ––especiallystylized plants, flowers, leafs and so on - guess it was influence of Art-Nouveau (Arts and Crafts movement) or maybe poor taste of the house owners ;)
Thanks God, William Morris with his nice ornament designs saved the face of all nations – and now we can say – it’s not ba-a-a-d, not bad at all.
William Morris’ design for wallpaper "Fruit" , 1864 (Courtesy: william-morris.co.uk)
4. Interior colors in general are dark and pastel– and were becoming darker and darker through all Victorian regimes): maybe it was just pollution from newly open factories all over Great Britain?
Late Victorian color scheme (Courtesy: blog.sampleboard.com)
5. And yes, interiors were quite eclectic - especially in newly arising bourgeois society homes – they were keen to purchase various things or bring them from abroad and put on display in each and every corner of their rooms. Sounds familiar, isn’t it? ;)
You can find more interesting features of this style but for understanding what can make your house look like one of old British days – it’s enough.
Now, when we have settled accounts with British style, let’s have a look at Indian design elements.
Basically British housewives tried to absorb e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. It’s also true, that not everyone (even among male European architects) at that time would understand and appreciate all beauty and logic of the local structures, proportions and design. But even without fully understanding they will take some parts of it, interpret and integrate.
The Musamman Burj, Red Fort, Agra (Courtesy: bugbog.com)
Mubarak Mahal, City Palace, Jaipur, North India (Courtesy: harekrsnascreations.blogspot.in)
So, here are some features for your Indian look.
1. Decoration-decoration…. Can you see on the pics above how much decorated walls and ceilings are?
They are covered with flat, mostly floral and abstract geometric ornaments of colored, semi-precious and precious stone (well, if you have some unused precious stones you can use them;), mother-of-pearl and even mirror pieces in “Parchinkari” style.
Btw, let me tell you that this style came to the Mughal palaces in 17th century from Italy (where it was called “Pietradura” (link)) via trading and gifts. Interesting interlink, isn’t it?
If such heavy decoration is too much for you – use it on fabrics only: curtains, pillows, linens, etc. Probably, this is much efficient way - unless you are building a palace ;)
2. Use sculpturing.It was another technique widely used for the walls, columns, pillars, etc., as you can see on the picture of the Delhi Red Fort or South Indian Thirumalai Nayak Mahal (the palace which again, voila!, have some Italian influence – just look at its columns…).
Thirumalai Nayak Mahal, Madurai, South India, 1636 (Courtesy: tushky.com)
3. Say thank you to horses.;) As most doorways, windows and even ceilings have horseshoe arch shape. This shape is probably the most recognizable element of the Mughal interior style.
Amer Palace, Rajasthan state, North India, 1592 (Courtesy:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amer_Fort)
4. Color contrast–this is easiest way to give to your space some Indian look ...White and light colors for walls- which is not entirely true as walls can be even green or pink –just as you wish. And spicy rich colors of sofa, cushions or carpets.
5. Little is known about genuine Mughal palaces furniture – perhaps, due to belief that “Muslims do not use furniture”.
But as we can see on picture below, it existed and consisted (apart from thrones) of low tables, sofas and divans with multiple cushions, cabinets, canopies and “podiums”. It was made mostly of the dark natural wood, covered with delicate ornaments.
Certainly, you don’t need to study old pictures to get it right. Just ask you furniture vendor for it ;) (For furniture, not for studying pictures).
“Jahangir entertains Shah Abbas” (Courtesy:bento.si.edu)
Let’s see, how different Raj style can look, depending on which side of it is dominating: British or Indian.
Secondly – remember about some design elements, which were brought by lifestyle of that days.
See, not only Raj style was influenced by British and Indian design, but it also had its own features, such as:
1. Wicker and caned furnishings – it was used on large verandas onits own or mixed with dark wooden furniture in interiors. Even more, it could be implemented into the wooden furniture designs as well, providing real colonial look to it.
2. Greenery – tropical greenery was new and unaccustomed to British, so they loved to put this or another flower pot into their rooms.