Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Tudor and Elizabethan Interiors

As interior design has changed over the 400-500 years since the Tudors, it is hard to find truly authentic interiors, however, by looking at rooms that have been recreated, rooms that have stood the test of time, and individual pieces of furniture it is possible to make a reasonable guess as to what thing might have looked like.

The picture above is a design  by Hans Holbein for a fireplace for Henry VIII. I don't know if it was ever actually created, but you can see that it is highly decorated, with rich carved detail and those classical elements which were slowing creeping in from Europe. It is also HUGE! This was a feature of many fireplaces in the Tudor period, but only for the very rich of course!

In the early Tudor period a country squire or lord of the manor was probably living much as he had done in the Medieval period, with daily life focused mostly within the great hall. It was during the reign of Henry VIII that the families of these households began to retreat further into their own private rooms. Houses were extended and the great hall became less important. Sometimes an extra floor was inserted, reducing the height of the hall, to make private rooms above for the family. These private rooms were often referred to as the solar.

Furniture was fairly simple for all but the very wealthy, simple benches, stools, and settles with a table or two. The fire place was replacing the open fire in the centre of the hall by this time too.

There isn't a great deal of comfort evident in these rooms. Soft furnishings were rare, but beds were becoming more common in houses by this time. having said that, even these weren't always comfortable, and were usually shared. It was still an expensive item, so only those with the means could afford them. Sometimes a pull out bed was stored beneath the main bed, known as a truckle bed, and might have been used by a trusted servant, whilst the master or mistress slept in the main bed.

Here are some illustrations of furniture you might have found in a Tudor home. Note how the wood is carved with lots of decorative motifs, the Tudors liked their decoration!

This is typical of the type of door used in many buildings during the Tudor period. The arch way is even called a Tudor arch! Walls were often panelled with wood. This again was often decorated, sometimes with carved details, a particularly popular design was called 'linenfold' which as the name suggests was designed to look like folded linen.

and sometimes the panelling would be painted

So the wealthier Tudor did begin to enjoy a little comfort in the home! as the picture above shows. Bigger windows also allowed more daylight into the rooms. Tapestries were also frequently used as wall coverings in wealthy Tudor houses.

Life was not quite so comfortable for the servants.

Some examples of Tudor kitchens. I think the last one is actually a reconstruction of a Tudor cottage interior.

This picture is taken from Wolsey's private apartment at Hampton Court Palace, I love the ceiling in this room! Note the linen fold panelling and Tudor arches!

This is the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall. The great Elizabethan houses were often built with long galleries, which were used for taking exercise. Much of the furniture in this room is from a later date, but the fire place is Elizabethan, and you may be able to see the tapestries on the wall on the left of the picture, which are original, purchased in 1592, but dating back further than that.

Tapestries were not only decorative, they also had a practical use in keeping out cold and draughts. The cabinet above is the sort of furniture that you might have found in wealthy Elizabethan houses. Flemish tapestries, particularly those made in Brussels were highly prized.

This picture is from the High Great Chamber at Hardwick Hall. Above the tapestries is a plaster work frieze, with raised details. it shows a hunting scene within a wood, and includes Diana the hunter. There are several rather exotic animals depicted, including elephants, camels and  lions as well as deer and hares. The tapestries here were purchased in 1572, but not hung until 1601. It's worth noting that the colours have faded a great deal over hundreds of years, the colours would have been quite vivid at the time! The canopy is a 19th century addition.

This picture is the Great Hall at Longleat. It has another great decorative fireplace and some rather subdued panelling. It is a large room, but would not have been used regularly by the family or servants.

This is the Great Bed of Ware. A famous Elizabethan bed, now displayed at the V&A museum in London. It is much larger than it looks in this picture, in fact it's huge! It may not be typical of beds from the period, but they would certainly have had bed curtains to keep out the cold air. Note the bright colours, these are the sort of colours that would have been popular in Elizabethan England! This bed was probably made for a tavern rather than a private house.


  1. Hi Andy, Interesting how the colors are so much more vivid than you would imagine or are used to seeing.

    Isn't the Great Hall at Longleat the inspiration for one of Mrs. Thorne's miniature rooms? It looks so familiar.

    The second photo looks a lot like the great hall of Bad Manor...oh, ...never mind! Long story...

    Another great post, Andy --you should do a book!

    1. Hi John,

      Mrs Ward Thorne? funny you should mention that, look out for next post!!

      The colours were vibrant but didn't always last for long, natural dyes wash out faster than the chemical dyes used these days, but colour was another way of showing wealth and status (that old thing keeps cropping up!)

      Bad Manor, is that part of your Renaissance festival?

  2. What a Wonderfully inspiring collection of pictures, Andy! I LOVE the tapestries..... and the Huge Hearths.... And the BED! WOW! I have heard of that bed! It is truly fascinating how Time alters everything... so that it is hard to know how it really looked when new! I rely heavily on the material in Medieval Illuminations for my sources... those artists were painting their own world more often than not... I LOVE looking at the tiny details of everyday life that they included even if it was anachronistic for the image they were portraying! Usually they had no awareness of that anachronism! And they LOVED intense color because it was rare and expensive! That is why I'm using such brilliant colors on my Castle Chapel paintings. So many of those interiors were destroyed during the Reformation... everything was painted white!
    As usual, I have learned a lot and added to my list of places to see... Someday!

    1. It's a great idea to use contemporary images as guides to what was worn and used and what colours were available. Just looking at the colours used in illuminated manuscripts gives a good example of what colours could be made in the past.

      yes, we lost many great art works here after the Reformation, though some have been discovered under white wash! The Civil War and Cromwell did a lot more damage to churches too!! (But that's another chapter!)

  3. Muchas gracias por la información, me encanta tanto esta como las imágenes que has puesto. Besos

    1. Hola, me alegra que hayas disfrutado leyendo esto, y viendo las fotos, espero que te traigan un poco de inspiración para futuros proyectos!

  4. Hi Andy!
    As always your post are wonderful! I love the way you Juridic! This blog you are becoming a reference for who they want to learn about the different decorative styles. It's like consult an encyclopedia!
    A big hug!!!

    Hola Andy!
    Como siempre tus post son una maravilla!! Me fascina la forma en que te documentas!! Este blog lo estás convirtiendo en una referencia para los que queramos aprender sobre los distintos estilos decorativos. Es como consultar una enciclopedia!!
    ¡¡Un abrazo enorme!!

    1. Gracias Pedrete, que es un gran elogio! Estoy muy contento de que usted es la búsqueda de estos mensajes interesantes y útiles!

      muchas gracias de nuevo a mi amigo!

      Andy x

  5. Hi Andy,

    Love the surprises there......I don't know why i love them so? Maybe because i spend so much time in would think that would make me less interested.

    The tapestries are superb, so decretive and full detail. Now I have to go and see that divine frieze at Hardwick Hall. I think next time i come to the UK I wont know which direction to go first!!!

    Fi x

    1. I took some time studying the pictures of the kitchens too, funny thing is that they wouldn't change all that much until the 19th century!

      Incase you're interested, the second kitchen picture shows a bread safe hanging from the ceiling, which was supposed to save food from vermin, and the objects on the wall cabinet are rush light holders. Rush lights were rushes dipped in fat and lit, they were cheaper than candles, but didn't last for long, burning out very quickly.

      If you're in UK, Hardwick Hall is a great house to visit!!

  6. Hi Andy,
    Again a wonderful post.
    I repeat, I wish I had seen these posts when I first started the manor. You offer so much great information and. Longleat and Harwick have always been at the top of my "favorites" list, and you've posted great pictures I've never seen before. Great job!
    All the best,

    1. Hi Giac, Dewell Manor could easily have started life as an Elizabethan manor house, with later additions! Great thing about dolls houses is that you can make up the history!!

  7. Great Post, lots of research and good information here. Thanks!

    1. Hi Troy, thanks for your comments, glad you're enjoying these posts!