Guides for home furnishing

19th Century Domestic Advice Manuals

Advice on home decorating had traditionally been written by men for men.

Titles such as Thomas Hope’s Household furniture and interior decoration (1807) had been the go-to works for advice on ‘tasteful’ home decorating among fashionable circles in the first half of the century.

By late century, a new ethos of domesticity saw home decoration as the specialty of women and this was accompanied by a growth in both female readership and authorship.

The Art at Home Series

The highly successful Art at Home series was published from 1876-1883 and was intended for a growing lower-middle-class British and American readership. The twelve volume series was devised and edited by the Irish born Rev. William John Loftie (1839–1911), and covered a range of varied subjects. The four volumes relating to the furnishing of domestic interiors were Suggestions for house decoration (1876), The drawing room (1877), The bedroom and boudoir (1878) and The dining room (1878). The intention was to provide guidance and instruction from the professional and personal experience of the authors, to those who lived without servants and could not afford to employ ‘skilled decorators’.

Publisher Macmillan & Co. released the Art at Home series as a collectable set, bound in blue-grey cloth bearing the title, the authors’ names and the Macmillan insignia, designed by English engraver James Davis Cooper (1823-1904). The ‘Art at Home’ motif used to decorate the series’ front covers was designed by London engraver Harry Soane (1840-1895).

The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection holds nine volumes of the Art at Home series.

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Lady Barker, The bedroom and boudoir, London: Macmillan and Co., 1878.

The bedroom and boudoir comprises nine chapters dedicated to furnishing and decoration. Headings include ‘An ideal bedroom – its walls’, ‘Beds and bedding’, ‘Fire and water’, 'The toilet’ and ‘The sick room’.

Too much attention can scarcely be expended on our sleeping rooms in order that we may have them wholesome, convenient and cheerful.


Jamaican born author Mary Anne Barker (nee Stewart 1830-1911), married Captain George Robert Barker in 1852, who was later knighted. After his death, widow Mary Anne retained the title of Lady Barker on her marriage to Frederick Napier Broome. She worked as correspondent for London newspaper, The Times, while the couple lived in New Zealand, and on her return to London, published Station life in New Zealand (1869). Mary Anne became Lady Superintendent of the National Training School of Cooking, South Kensington and released First lessons in the principles of cooking (1869). Broome was eventually knighted in 1884, after which Lady Barker became Lady Broome.

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Mrs Loftie, The dining room, London: Macmillan and Co., 1878.

practical suggestions to inexperienced housekeepers on small income, who do not wish to make limited means an excuse for disorder and ugliness.

The dining room focuses on the different types of furniture, fixtures and fittings required for different dining spaces - the aim to create functional, comfortable and tasteful rooms on a budget.

The book also offers advice on the social functions of the dining room, with focus on the housekeeping skills of the lady of the house - the ‘well-appointed dinner-table’ and the ‘housewife’s domestic care’. In the chapter titled The parlour, consideration is given to family space:

… In households where there are grown-ups sons and daughters living at home, it is very nice if each one can be given a little corner of their own in the family parlour – a place to write, draw, or read, or put by their work.


Author Martha Jane Loftie (nee Anderson c1840-1914) began to contribute anonymous articles on housing, interior decoration and furnishings to the English newspaper Saturday Review, in 1874. These were published by Macmillan as Forty-six social twitters in 1879. The dining room contains forty-three illustrations from the English Scribner’s Monthly, three full-page woodcuts and the personal crest of Mrs Loftie – ‘Prend moy tel que je suis’ (take me such as I am).

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Lucy Orrinsmith, The drawing room: its decoration and furniture, London: Macmillan and Co., 1878.

First published in 1877, The drawing room comprises eight chapters relating to various interior surfaces and decorating aspects of the drawing room. Headings include ‘Evils and remedies’, ‘Walls and ceilings’, ‘Fireplaces and chimneypieces’ and ‘Pictures, frames, mirrors, odds and ends’.

Author Lucy Orrinsmith (née Faulkner) was a craftswoman and promoter of home decoration for housewives. Through the 1860s Lucy produced embroideries for the furnishings and decorative arts firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company. The business was founded in 1861 by designer William Morris (1834-1896) with associates from the Pre–Raphaelite movement (1848-1900). Lucy designed, made and exhibited works through the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in the 1870s, but was best known for The drawing room.

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From Kitchen to Garret

J.E. Panton, From kitchen to garret: hints for young householders, new and revised edition, London: Ward & Downey, 1893.

From kitchen to garret is one of a series of advice guides written by Jane Ellen Panton (née Frith, 1847-1923) on life and work in the middle-class home. First published in 1887, this title was intended for young married couples and offers aesthetic guidance and practical instruction on avoiding the ‘pitfalls’ when choosing a house and its location, setting up home, budgeting, decorating and entertaining. This eighth edition includes advertisements and endorsements by Mrs Paton, an index, illustrations, as well as updated chapters relating to different rooms of the house and tables of costings and wages.

I am most anxious to ‘go with the times’ and to give my new readers the benefit of the new materials and colours, and of the experience I have gathered since the years when I first began to talk confidently to my public.


Panton, the daughter of London painter William Powell Frith, married brewer James Albert Panton in 1869. In the early 1880s, Jane began writing articles on home furnishing for the English Ladies Pictorial Magazine, in order to raise money while James awaited payment for the sale of his share in the family brewery. She also earned money taking commissions to design interiors for private clients.

Other works by Panton include a companion volume titled Nooks and corners (1889); Homes of taste: economical hints (1890); Suburban residences and how to circumvent them (1896); and A gentlewoman's home: the whole art of building, furnishing, and beautifying the home (1896), and the linked titles are held by the CSL&RC.

The London publishing firm of Ward & Downey was co-founded in 1884 by Irish born novelist and newspaper editor Edmund Downey (1856-1937) and Chilean born Osbert Ward (1857-1949). Downey retired from the partnership in 1890 and went on to publish under his own name.

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Pretty Homes

Mrs Horsfall, Pretty homes, London: The European Mail, Limited, 1897.

Pretty homes was priced at 3s.6d. and aimed at a middle-class audience with ‘limited means’. The work contains illustrations to chapters such as: ‘A corner of a girl’s sitting room’, ‘a passage doorway’, ‘how to arrange a corner fireplace’, ‘a doctor’s study’ and ‘how I furnished my cottage for £10’. The book also contains advertisements for textile, wallpaper and furniture suppliers, as well as whisky and wines and The European Mail – ‘… the Most Effective and Economic Media of Communication between Merchants and Manufacturers generally, and all classes of Foreign and Colonial Consumers.’ [p.8 advertisements]

Mrs Horsfall wrote articles on decoration for The European Mail, a London newspaper co-founded by Mr Octavius Morgan and his brothers in 1843. The business also published trade journals The ironmonger and The chemist and druggist. Distribution of The European Mail across the British Empire commenced in the 1840s and its global reach provided an inexpensive means for advertisers to reach overseas markets. By the late 1860s, the firm had released The European Mail directory of British manufacturers and Merchants whose market is the world.

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19th Century Domestic Advice Manuals

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