How to Decorate in the Elizabethan Era

Elizabethan style oozes tradition and heritage.

Walls and Floors

Tapestries provided warmth and color in Elizabethan houses.Tapestries provided warmth and color in Elizabethan houses.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth I reigned from 1558 to 1603, a period of exploration and great social change. Decorative fashion was influenced by new styles from Spain and France, and decor and furniture reflected the social status of the household. Unless you were a serf, Elizabethan houses had large rooms with minimal furniture. Each room had a purpose -- dining, greeting, dancing, meeting -- unlike our multifunctional rooms today. With a little imagination, it is simple to achieve the Elizabethan look in key rooms in your home.

Cover at least one wall in panels of dark wood. Carved paneled walls, usually in oak, were the order of the day, adding a decorative and warm touch in the drafty, cavernous halls of the Elizabethan house.

Panel just the lower part of the wall if you are on a budget. This is called wainscoting. Lightweight veneered panels slot together to give the appearance of solid wood. An alternative is to use panel-effect wallpaper for a lighter look.

Paint any remaining wall space in matte heritage colors. Deeper, richer colors, such as dark red or olive green, denoted higher rank in Elizabethan times. Finish the walls with decorative crown molding around the ceiling in an acanthus leaf or rose design.

Hang tapestries in rich fabrics on walls and use intricate woven rugs on wooden or matte tiled floors for warmth underfoot.

Furniture

Reflect the Elizabethan era with carved, ornamented furniture. Choose solid, heavy wooden cupboards to store crockery and linen. Position them centrally along walls.

Surround a refectory-style table with wooden dining chairs. Imitate the Elizabethan style by covering armrests, seats and backs with padded tapestry. Ensure the table has stretcher rails between its legs to act as footrests.

Update the uncomfortable style of Elizabethan seating with a modern version of the settle, a wooden high-backed bench. Upholster the seat and back with generous padding and cover with sumptuous fabric in rich colors.

Add splendor to your bedroom by investing in a four-poster bed with a wooden headboard. Hang velvet drapes from the posts, as Elizabethans did to keep out the cold. Place a wooden chest at the foot of the bed, adorned with a bowl of fragrant herbs or potpourri.

Bring an authentic touch to your room with a Bible box. Use a carved wooden chest as a side table large enough to hold a family Bible. Leave the wood naturally unfinished or coat with beeswax.

Decoration

Establish an air of pageantry and splendor with heraldic elements. Use swords on long, narrow walls, hang shields in a boxy alcove and display your family coat of arms prominently at the entrance to your home.

Create a sense of history by hanging reproductions of Elizabethan portraits and landscapes next to the tapestries on the walls. Decorate smaller rooms with miniature portraits in ornate silver frames.

Reflect the Elizabethan motifs of flora and fauna in soft furnishings. Use drapes, cushions and throws to soften the heaviness of wooden furniture. Replace covers with embroidered linen, velvet or tapestry embellished with running hares, nymphs or the Tudor rose.

Display pewter, silver or walnut crafted pieces on cupboards or tables. Choose acanthus leaf, grape or floral designs to imitate Elizabethan ornamentation. Store occasional items in intricately inlaid wooden boxes.

Complete the look with pewter or silver candle sconces. Position them so that they accent particular decorative items when lit. Use them to create a flickering backlight to your Elizabethan-style room.

Tips

  • Research the Elizabethan era before decorating.
  • Avoid mixing styles from different historical periods.
  • Be selective -- one stylish accent piece is better than a jumble of nondescript items.

Warning

  • Swords and shields can be heavy. Secure them properly for safety.

About the Author

Catherine Ketley was a teacher in London for 20 years, later authoring online materials for the British government and National College. She moved into print media in 2001. Ketley holds a bachelor's degree in education and English. In 2002, she also earned a distinction for postgraduate research.