Social History

What was the social history of the Victorian and Edwardian drawing room? How was it used?

The drawing room was also called the 'front parlour' or 'sitting room'. The term 'parlour' is from 'parler' - where visitors are received to talk.

In the Georgian period the drawing room was upstairs. In the early Victorian period it moved downstairs to the front of the house. It then moved to the rear, unless the kitchen was too close and cooking smells would overwhelm people, swapping places with the dining room. A drawing room at the rear often had French doors leading into the garden.

The drawing room was 'the ladies' room', originating from the use of the room as a 'withdrawing room', to which the ladies retired after a meal. In most homes it was usually used only on Sundays or for guests at other times. However, the middle classes tended to use them more frequently for quiet activities or for musical events.

As a public room, it was a place for the ostentatious display of precious furniture and decorative items although it generally had a lighter colour scheme than the dining room, with a fresher, more floral scheme. The choice of decor reflected the prosperity and status, as well as the aesthetic and cultural interests of the household.

In larger houses there was another room, sometimes called the 'back parlour', which was used for everyday activities and might also be used for family dining.