ALTHOUGH HE WAS BORN A half-century after Queen Victoria's reign, Brian Coleman lives as if the 19th century never ended.
Coleman's Queen Anne home is an homage to excess, Victorian-style. Rooms are filled to the rafters with tufted sofas and velvet chairs laden with embroidered pillows and fringed throws. Gilt-framed paintings cover the papered walls, while heavy draperies shroud the windows, casting a veil of darkness over the curio-filled interiors.
A psychiatrist at a Seattle hospital, Coleman began collecting Victorian furnishings and accessories seven years ago, after buying the 1906 house with hotel controller Howard Cohen.
Although the home was fairly nondescript from the outside, its interior was well preserved. The fir millwork had never been painted, and the doors still sported their original, turn-of-the-century hardware. Checking beneath the orange shag carpeting, the owners discovered oak floors inlaid with a decorative mahogany border.
An antiques collector from an early age (he bought a ceramic doorstop on the installment plan when he was just 8 years old), Coleman always had been intrigued by Victorian design, and decided that this house would make a fitting backdrop for an authentic Gilded Age interior. He located a company that reproduces 1880s wall coverings, and ordered some floral papers custom-printed in shades of red, green and gold. He topped the walls with a border of gold embossed paper, called Lincrusta, and covered the ceilings on the main floor with a gold-and-white pattern that dates from the 1800s but looks for all the world like 1950s Formica.
"The wallpaper was probably the most important thing to me," says Coleman, 40. "After I got that foundation, things evolved."
He and Cohen began traveling around the country, attending antiques shows and networking with dealers of 19th-century furniture and accessories. "As we started furnishing the house and seeing what looked good, I started learning more and more about Victorian things," Coleman says. "As I got to know more about it, I found I really enjoyed it."
The home is filled with the fruits of these forays: elaborately carved case pieces and demure chairs upholstered in technicolor fabrics trimmed with fringe. A fainting couch thought to have belonged to a madam in Puyallup who serviced a governor. A stuffed peacock named "Henry." And a rainbow assortment of lamps, footstools and ephemera.
Taken on their own, the pieces might seem garish. But grouped together, they suggest the eccentric gentility of another era.
In decorating the home, Coleman lived by the credo "more is more." He covered the floors with layers of Oriental carpets and kilims, and draped shawls over paintings and sofa arms. Doorways are framed by portieres trimmed with tassels and fringe, while peacock feathers billow from every corner. "You can never have enough peacock feathers," advises Coleman.
He installed vintage stained-glass windows throughout the home, and replaced the front door with one dating to the late 1800s. Antique light fixtures were added to every room, and crowned with plaster ceiling medallions.
Coleman tries to be as faithful to the Victorian era as possible, avoiding reproductions whenever the real thing is available or could be replicated from period parts. He reupholstered the living-room furniture with vintage velvets, and fashioned curtains from cut velvet and old panels of Battenberg lace.
Since 100-year-old yard goods can be hard to find, occasionally Coleman improvises. He covered an 1880s slipper chair with silk from a Victorian gown, and upholstered a walnut folding chair with a piece of 19th-century carpeting. In the living room, he covered a tete-a-tete (an S-shaped conversational sofa) with scraps of gold, scarlet and green cut velvet.
"I just love the look, the feel you get from old textiles," Coleman says. "They have that sense of history to them."
Some might consider the sense of history a little TOO pervasive. More than one visitor has likened the home to a museum, with Coleman as docent, challenging his visitors to identify obscure 19th-century artifacts. ("No kidding? So that's what Victorian asparagus tongs look like!")
"If they say it looks like a museum, to me that means that it looks very authentic," Coleman says. "That's what I like, I guess: thinking you could be in that time period."
He enhances that sense of authenticity by accessorizing the home with vintage portraits, scrap albums and autograph books - personal effects that make it seem like the original occupants never left.
The owners know some might feel a little overwhelmed by it all. They preserve their own equilibrium by spending the bulk of their time in the kitchen and master bedroom. "We don't feel smothered by all this because we're not sitting amongst it all the time," says Cohen, surveying the living room. "I come in here once in a blue moon and I enjoy it, because it's so pretty."
Seattle writer Fred Albert reports regularly on home design for Pacific, and other regional magazines. Greg Gilbert is a Seattle Times photographer.