Cornice Colors for Victorian Homes


The cornice and plaster centerpiece are painted in the 1901 colours used on this 1889 cornice. The original 1889 colours were even richer, but the room was restored to its appearance after a major renovation in 1901

Victorian cornices are handsome additions to formal rooms. Encircling the room at the junction of the wall and ceiling, they add a visual importance to the overall design and decoration of the building.

Unfortunately, it has become the practice to paint cornices all white, by some mistaken thought that this is correct. Research that I have done on several period cornices – ranging in date from 1862 through to paint schemes of the 1970’s on historic cornices – shows that the colours became progressively paler, from the rich tones and hues of the Victorian period, through pale turn of the century colours to finally, the white “paint-it-out-so-we-cannot-see-it” vision of the 1950’s, which sadly visually obliterated the historic cornices that survived, and is a scheme that has been perpetrated by painters and owners everywhere to the present day.

Cornices were meant to harmonize with the overall decorative scheme of the room. Wall colours were complemented, accent colours introduced, colors sympathetic to the wallpaper were used, and – probably – colours of the now-long-disappeared carpet were worked into the color scheme of the cornice. Even touches of gold, to match picture frames and gently reflect the light from the brass chandeliers were used in cornices.

Below are several planned color schemes for cornices from the late Victorian period. They are rich and detailed, and worth inspecting for ideas and suggestions for colors. They must be accompanied by a warning however. No actual cornice that I have researched and microscopically analyzed color chips from has ever achieved the several detailed colours of these recommended schemes.

Actual cornices that I have researched have limited themselves to around three colors, with the main deep cove being the most brilliant color, with coordinating accent colors on both sides. A slim gold fillet below the cornice has been found, with another encircling where the ceiling touches the cornice. The gold fillets were included to ‘finish’ where the wallpaper or ceiling papers touched the cornice.

To research the colors of your cornice, you may use a gentle form of the “Bull’s eye” method of finding your original colors as outlined in the article titled:

Finding the original Colors of my House

An example of a restored cornice in an 1884 Dining Room at a historic site. A far simpler cornice color scheme than that recommended in decorating books of the period. The original wallpaper had been purchased in London in 1884, and has been recently reprinted to match the badly damaged original paper. The cornice has been restored to its original two color plan of a mossy-avacado green and Indian red. Indian red was based on a red oxide pigment, which is an earth color. Depending on where the red oxide was obtained, it can vary widely in hue and intensity.