Edwardian Interiors: The Boudoir

The boudoir at Moray Lodge © English Heritage

The great country houses and the homes of the wealthy were full of rooms. Rooms for eating, rooms for sleeping, rooms for business, rooms for sport, and so on and so forth. A few weeks ago on Word Wenches, Nicola Cornick discussed the historical concepts of privacy, and “privacy and status being inextricably linked.” The existence of the boudoir, which was a room set aside for the exclusive use of the lady of the house, was another facet of how the privileged lived. Public rooms, such as the breakfast room, morning room, sitting room, drawing room, or parlour, could be found in most aristocratic and upper class houses, but a home which also boasted of a boudoir was de rigueur amongst the aspiring middle classes.

A lady’s boudoir was essentially her own private study, where she could “retire to write letters, plan menus, embroider, read or just rest on her chaise-longue to overcome a tiresome headache.” According to Elsie de Wolfe, in her seminal book on interior decoration, The House in Good Taste:

The boudoir should always be a small room, because in no other way can you gain a sense of intimacy. Here you may have all the luxury and elegance you like, you may stick to white paint and simple chintzes, or you may indulge your passion for pale-colored silks and lace frills. Here, of all places, you have a right to express your sense of luxury and comfort. The boudoir furnishings are borrowed from both bedroom and drawing-room traditions. There are certain things that are used in the bedroom that would be ridiculous in the drawing-room, and yet are quite at home in the boudoir. For instance, the chaise-longue is part of the bedroom furnishing in most modern houses, and it may also be used in the boudoir, but in the drawing-room it would be a violation of good taste, because the suggestion of intimacy is too evident.

…[I]t is really sitting-room, library, and rest-room combined, a home room very much like my down-town office in the conveniences it offers. In the early morning it is my office, where I plan the day’s routine and consult my servants. In the rare evenings when I may give myself up to solid comfort and a new book it becomes a haven of refuge after the business of the day. When I choose to work at home with my secretary, it is as business-like a place as my down-town office. It is a sort of room of all trades, and good for each of them.

…In a small house where only one woman’s tastes have to be considered, a small downstairs sitting-room may take the place of the more personal boudoir, but where there are a number of people in the household a room connecting with the bedroom of the house mistress is more fortunate. Here she can be as independent as she pleases of the family and the guests who come and go through the other living-rooms of the house. Here she can have her counsels with her children, or her tradespeople, or her employees, without the distractions of chance interruptions, for this one room should have doors that open and close, doors that are not to be approached without invitation. The room may be as austere and business-like as a down-town office, or it may be a nest of comfort and luxury primarily planned for relaxation, but it must be so placed that it is a little apart from the noise and flurry of the rest of the house or it has no real reason for being.

The boudoir in Westonbirt House

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157627004095719″]


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5 replies on “Edwardian Interiors: The Boudoir”
    1. says: Evangeline

      I completely agree! It seems we’ve gone back to the days where housing was just utilitarian and not truly made for comfort and privacy.

  1. says: Celestine

    It is refreshing to find an article written by someone who knows the difference between ‘boudoir’ and ‘bedroom’. Google ‘boudoir’ and you get an array of bedrooms- the last article I looked at displayed a photo of a bedroom that looked like an elegant hospital room-! They labeled it a ‘boudoir’. I am in the process of transforming a room in my house into a boudoir. So excited about the possibilities. It will not, by the way, resemble, however elegant, a hospital room!

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