All-American Style: Georgian Interior Design
From the 1700s to Today, Americans Have Been Enamoured with Georgian Interior Design and Architecture
Welcome back to my quest to discover, explore, and define the all-American interior design styles of our nation. As I continue on my coast-to-coast American road trip, I am stopping in New England to check out one of the most classic American design styles (which isn’t really American at all). While some American design styles were born out of the Western frontier, like Prairie School and Southwestern, others were imported from our former parent nation across the pond. To this day, we are still enchanted with the royals—copying the chic style of Princess Diana, daydreaming about Kate’s royal wedding, and keeping up with Harry and Meghan’s stateside drama on Oprah. At the end of the day, there is nothing more American than being an Anglophile. Did anyone else sport a Union Jack tee in their youth, or was that just me?
All of this is to say that the classic American backdrop of our Founding Fathers is actually rooted in British design. While most associate Georgian interior design and architecture with early Americana, the style was actually developed in England and named in honor of King George. Remember him from Hamilton? To learn why Americans are still enamored with Georgian architecture centuries later (and so quick to associate it with all-American style), my team of Austin interior designers and I review Georgian interior design elements and the movements that defined the style.
Elements of the Georgian Interior Design Style
Symmetrical and Proportional Design
While the Georgian interior design style was developed in the early 1700s, the aesthetic still translates well into our modern-day lifestyle. Georgian homes are grounded in symmetry and livable proportions that just feel inviting. (These inviting proportions were actually pulled from the classic Renaissance architecture of Greece and Rome—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!) The floor plan of a traditional Georgian house features a central hall that connects two side wings, creating a seamless flow inside and a stately street presence outside. While Georgian design has historical roots, the floor plans feel open and lend themselves to contemporary design applications.
The Great Hall
My absolute favorite feature of Georgian design is the great hall! Large, defined landing spaces are the secret to creating welcoming entryways. Upon arrival, great halls allow guests the opportunity to transition before being thrust into the home. Here, visitors can collect themselves, drop off their coats, and get a preview of what’s to come. Interior design tells a story, and the great hall is where the chapter begins and first impressions are made. Large entryways like this can be accented with an elegant center table to catch mail and keys, a bench to rest or remove shoes, decorative chinoiserie wall coverings that spark conversation, and even family photos that give the home a personal feel.
Pared-Down Romanesque Details
While Georgian design was developed by the British and adopted by Americans, the style took inspiration from the Romans. (One thing I’ve learned on my American interior design road trip is that all design movements are constantly borrowing and blending ideas in a melting pot of style.) Georgian architecture features pared-down Romanesque details including classical columns, decorative ironwork, and design motifs like ribbon, husks, and urns. Americans took these ornate design features and simplified them, making them the perfect match for the idyllic middle-class household.
Most Georgian homes emphasize the importance of decorative millwork. Paneling, wainscotting, dental moldings, and oversized baseboards add grandeur to the space—highlighting taller ceilings, symmetrical windows, and formal dining and living rooms. Millwork remains a key feature of Georgian design, adding warmth and texture to the home.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, European countries began increasing trade with China and other Eastern nations, sparking a fascination with Asian art and design. To meet the growing demand for Chinese artwork, fabrics, and dishes, Europeans began creating their own imitation patterns, which came to be known as chinoiserie. These patterns included the classic blue and white China patterns, and wallcoverings featuring swirling patterns of flora and fauna. As a trend of the times, they found their way into Georgian interior design and have become a classic staple.
Historical Influences of the Georgian Design Style
The height of the Georgian interior design and architectural movement ran from the early 1700s to the mid-1800s—well over 100 years! Georgian design has been so withstanding (even today) because the style is highly adaptable and able to meet the demands of the passing trends. Early Georgian design was more rigid and decorative, taking design cues from the popular Baroque style of the era. By the mid-Georgian period, the French Rococo movement brought light, playful, and naturalistic elements to the style—paving the way for color and pattern. The late Georgian design style swung back to the start, placing neoclassic details and a revived appreciation of Roman classism at the forefront of the movement. The turn of the century welcomed the Regency period. Regency interior design valued natural light, simpler details, and rooms made for a purpose—which happens to be many of the design principles we cherish today. As the U.S. gained its independence and became a new nation, Georgian homes and their stately facades were seen as the next phase of development—ushering in a new American Dream (and style).
Why Georgian Interior Design is Still Popular Today
Georgian interior design has endured for over 300 years, making it just slightly older than America itself. It is no small feat to maintain relevance through the Rococo, Regency, and Modern Farmhouse eras—not to mention a revolution! So, why is Georgian design still popular? I don’t think we need to look any further than our favorite movies to find the answer. Our Netflix cues are full of Jane Austin-era films and series, like Pride and Prejudice, Bridgerton, and Emma. Georgian architecture pulls from these Regency-inspired aesthetics, providing the romance of a far-off place and time that really wasn’t all that long ago. The simplicity and elegance of Georgian homes are what inspired Americans to copy them from the British in the first place, and that simplicity has allowed them to grow with us.
What Makes Georgian Style “All-American?”
I started this road trip thinking Americans just borrowed Georgian style from the British. However, my team of Austin interior designers and I discovered that this style from across the pond acquired its iconic features from the Chinese, French, and Romans. Like America, interior design has proven to be a melting pot of style, and Georgian design perfectly encapsulates that idea. The style has been with us since the birth of our country, served as a backdrop for our Founding Fathers, and defined the East Coast aesthetic. As a mix of borrowed styles that evoke comfort and adaptability, Georgian design and Americans have a lot in common. I’m glad we got something good from King George, at least!