IT TAKES NO GREAT WIT to criticize the Victorian period. Its fussy and ponderous furniture has always been an easy target. Few can respond with any degree of seriousness to an age when piano legs had to be draped because they were considered indecent, and when a gentleman could not offer a lady a seat in the chair he had been occupying because it might still contain the warmth of his body.
Today, however, people are seeing the tastes and styles of the past century with new eyes. The era's bold use of color is much admired, particularly the adventurous way in which different fabrics were juxtaposed.
There is new appreciation for the many unusual materials out of which Victorians made furniture: horn, wicker, metal, papier-mache.
The Victorian imagination can be seen at its most inventive in the "Patent" furniture of the time: elaborate folding chairs, chairs that vibrated, sofas that doubled as bathtubs, recliners, tilt-back invalid chairs--and on and on. Pieces such as these create a clever counterpoint in a contemporary setting. No other furniture period equals the Victorian use of woods such as mahogany, oak and pine--and the warmth they produced.
The basic appeal of Victorian antiques today, however, is easier to explain: There is something comforting in the solidity of the era's furniture--in shirred, tufted and tasseled Victorian easy chairs with their beadwork pillows; in Victorian tables with their heavy, ornate legs, and Victorian side bars with long horizontal mirrors. Nostalgia for such a generous and abundant era is more than understandable. It bespeaks a love of home.