Today I am talking antique Victorian painted cottage furniture — its history, charming features, where to buy, and the story behind some of my own pieces.

Victorian Painted Cottage Furniture

It’s no secret I have a thing for antique Victorian painted cottage furniture.

Just take a look around the house!

A commode provides storage in the entrance area.

Another serves as a drinks cabinet in the dining area.

And a third as a bedside table in my bedroom.

A Victorian painted chest of drawers holds candles, and other spare decorative items in the living room.

There is a dresser in the den and another in the bathroom. And of course there is the one whose drawers the kids wrestle with in the waterside guest room.

Victorian cottage beds too — in both guest rooms and the gorgeous headboard I had made into a four-poster bed in the primary.

Sometimes I like to mix things up a bit. A painted mirror married with a natural wood antique chest of drawers from another era. And I had simple new wood base with drawers made for a colorful tabletop.

I obviously can’t get enough!

Each unique piece, though, adds its own charm and whimsy to the space in which it resides.

What Is Victorian Cottage Furniture?

But what exactly is Victorian cottage furniture?

When most people think of furniture dating to the Victorian period — 1837-1901, the duration of English Queen Victoria’s reign — they picture large, heavy, ornately carved dark wood pieces.

There was a lighter, brighter, and much more fun side to this era, though.

That would be Victorian cottage furniture!

My favorite style of furniture arose from a combination of political, social, and decorative influences.

With the end of the Civil War, spirits were lightening, and Americans were looking once again to purchase more than just the necessities of daily life.

And, since by the end of the 19th century most furniture in America was made by machines in factories, such “luxuries” were becoming more affordable and accessible to the general public.

At the same time, there was a movement away from the over-the-top style of the early Victorian period.

In 1868, Charles Eastlake wrote a book, Hints On Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details, in which he appealed for simpler home furnishings.

The resulting Victorian Eastlake period, which lasted from 1870 until around 1890, was characterized by linear designs, angular decoration, and low-relief carvings.

As with many new trends, Victorian Cottage Furniture, part of the Eastlake movement, first became popular with the wealthy. They used it to decorate their summer homes in places like Martha’s Vineyard, Cape May, and the Berkshires. Soon, though, similar pieces could be found in homes throughout New England.

Victorian cottage furniture was most often sold in “suites”, a coordinating set which included a bed, washstand, dresser (often with a mirror), small table, and chairs.

I have more than one of each of these items!

Charming Victorian Cottage Features

Decorative painted finishes and embellishments.

Carved wood details.

Fancy drawer pulls.

And even sweetly scalloped joinery holding the drawers together.

Let’s take a closer look at the charming Victorian cottage furniture features I love so much!

Decorative Paint

Most pieces of Victorian cottage furniture were made from birch, pine, poplar, or some other cheap wood and then painted a bright color, or to mimic a more expensive wood such as mahogany or burl.

My favorites are those with an exaggerated wavy pine grain design.

I don’t know why, but I am a sucker for pretty much anything with a faux wood grain finish!

On top of the base finish, artisans hand-painted whimsical designs — sprigs of flowers or leaves, asian motifs, and decorative flourishes.

On some very special pieces, they painted detailed landscape scenes.

I entreat you — if you are fortunate enough to own one of these antique cottage pieces, with its original paint, please do not refinish it! Even if the painted finish is worn! To me, the signs of its age only add to its charm!

Wood details

The tops of headboards, mirrors, and washstand backsplashes on Victorian cottage furniture are usually fancifully shaped with scalloped details, geometric designs, and decorative carved medallions.

The base of dressers and washstands might be gracefully curved or angular with distinctive moulding. And often raised on metal rolling feet.

Drawer pulls

Even the drawer pulls perfectly accent each piece.

Sometimes simple round wooden knobs to go with a more subdued finish.

Other times detailed carved wooden handles with a fruit and nut motif, or dropped pulls or rings with decorative brass back plates.

Knapp drawer joints

If you own a piece of Victorian cottage furniture, pull open the drawer and look at the side. You are likely in for a happy little scalloped surprise!

Many Victorian cottage case goods have drawers held together with Knapp joints, one of the first successful machine-made drawer joint. They replaced hand-cut dovetails, and allowed factories to increase production tenfold.

The Knapp joint was only used from 1870 until around 1900, when they figured out how to make a machine-made dovetail.

This makes these cottage furniture pieces even more special in my opinion!

I also have a few pieces that use a dowel joint, the precursor to the Knapp. Pretty special too!

Some of my favorite Victorian Cottage pieces

As I mentioned earlier, Victorian Cottage furniture usually came in large matching bedroom sets.

I am not one for matchy-matchy, though.

So I like to mix them with other, more simple, furniture so they can shine as a design focal point.

As always, I also encourage you to think outside the box and use these typical bedroom pieces in different rooms and for other than their intended purposes.

I love all of my antique painted cottage furniture, but here are some of my favorites.

Waterside guest bedroom

This classic set was my first Victorian cottage furniture purchase.

I found it at a large antiques/flea Market in Virginia. It is one of the relatively rare examples where natural wood was used as the base, with painted flower and asian motifs. Since the design is fairly simple, I do use most of the set in this one room. I mixed in a couple painted antique wicker pieces to break things up.

Fun note: The seller told me this furniture set belonged to the Burpee seed catalogue family!

Read all about this bedroom in one of my first blog posts 6 Ways to Add Coastal Maine Charm to Your Guest Room

Primary bedroom

I found this fabulous bedroom set at a local Maine antiques mall.

I love the turquoise paint color. And the painted floral design and scalloped details are beautiful.

But it is the painted coastal scene on the headboard that stopped my heart. It is truly as if this set was made with just my coastal cottage in mind some 150 years ago.

To update the set, I had a craftsman turn the full-size headboard into a four poster queen bed. He also made a new base with drawers for the painted tabletop, which I use as a bedside table. And I topped a natural wood antique dresser with the colorful mirror. I love the mix of old and new, ornate and simple.

For more views of this gorgeous antique bed, check out my post Transition From Winter to Spring with Fresh Decor and Soft Colors

Living room dresser

At $35, I was very happy to be the highest bidder on this sweet dresser at a local auction.

In fact I was the lone bidder.

I guess I was the only one whose heart went pitter pat at the sight of that wonderful faux grain finish and the lovely bucolic scenes in the center of each drawer.

In my mind, it is absolute perfection.

Entrance area washstand

I rescued this little washstand from the front porch of an antiques mall.

It was somewhat worse for wear from the Maine weather it had endured out there.

But I brought it home, cleaned it up, and it is now as good as new.

Or as good as old….

Read more about my entryway and mud room in my post Our Mudroom and Entryway | A Marriage of Form and Function

Dining area drinks table

This lovely washstand-cum-drinks table came from another local antiques mall.

I like that the painted design has a slightly masculine feel to it. It mixes beautifully with the scrubbed pine furniture I have in the dining area.

Captain’s room bed

Someone on Instagram alerted me to this piece for sale on Etsy, for local Maine pickup only.

It is actually the footboard for a full or possibly even a twin size bed.

The same craftsman who made the four poster bed in the primary bedroom added side pieces, painted to match the faux wood grain, to make this into a full-size headboard.

The painted scenes with sailboats are perfect for this sea-themed “Captain’s bedroom”!

Read about how I dressed our beds for the cozy season in the post Settle in for a Long Winter’s Nap with Cozy Flannel Bedding.

Where to Buy

I have bought my Victorian cottage furniture pieces from a variety of sources.

I hope this list helps you find a treasure of your own!

  • Antiques shows
  • Antiques shops/malls
  • Auctions
  • Etsy
  • Ebay
  • 1st Dibs
  • Chairish
  • Estate sales
  • Yard sales
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Flea markets

If you are looking at online sources, you can search on various combinations of the terms: furniture, painted, victorian, cottage, eastlake, antique, pine.

Prices will vary depending on the source. I am lucky to have gotten some really good deals at auctions and local antiques malls. Etsy and Ebay will generally have higher prices than you can find locally. And sites such as 1st Dibs and Chairish will be the most expensive. However, that one-of-a-kind piece that you really love could be worth it!

Condition also influences price. Keep in mind, though, that painted finishes are delicate, and these pieces have been around for close to 150 years. I am of the firm belief that normal wear and tear adds to the character of the piece. And you don’t have to worry when you accidentally add some additional “character” of your own!

You needn’t fill your home with antique cottage furniture as I have done.

But a piece or two used in unexpected ways will certainly add charm and whimsy, no matter your style!

This Week Into Next

Spring Forward

Last week I forgot to acknowledge March’s arrival.

Welcome, March!

I can’t believe we set the clocks forward this weekend! Somehow there seems to be a lot of controversy these days over daylight savings time, with many “experts” saying it is generally bad for us physically and emotionally.

As a night owl, I personally feel so much better when daylight lasts later into the evening. Those 4:00 winter sunsets are what kill me.

So, a toast to longer days! Spring is just around the corner!


Recently I have been feeling in a design rut (always hits me this time of year), while also taking initial steps on a variety of small home projects. But instead of focusing on one thing and getting it done, I jump from idea to idea and room to room. I just wish I could snap my fingers and go from idea to finished product. Anyone else feel like that?

Last weekend I picked up a Facebook Marketplace bed for the guest cottage. That prompted me to buy some new spring bedding. But before I can pull it all together, I need to paint the bed. That is my plan for this weekend…

I also started a few sewing projects for the kitchen — a spring table runner and sink skirt. Turns out, though, I didn’t get enough fabric. So a trip to the fabric store, a one-hour drive each way, is on the agenda for this weekend too.

Then the other day I received fabric I ordered to make cafe curtains for the mudroom. Add that to the to-do list, along with a few other projects I want to complete in there.

And then this week I ordered a wallpaper sample for the primary bathroom. I have been struggling with what to do with the walls in there for years. I am hoping this paper might be the solution for what is a tricky space.

Do you see what I mean? All thought and no action!

Well, hopefully I will have completed projects to share with you soon!

In Zoe’s Kitchen

This week in her newsletter Zoë is sharing the recipes for Olive Oil Braised Chickpeas and Soy Sauce Noodles with Cabbage and Fried Eggs. Yum!

You can view her newsletter and subscribe at In Zoe’s Kitchen on Substack.

I would say that is enough for this week!

Be well, friends!


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