Medieval Architecture and Interior Design - Explained

Medieval Architecture and Interior Design - Explained

Architecture
Interior Design
By Dikran Seferian July 30, 2022

One historical form of design that has captured many imaginations is the medieval style — think The Tudors or Game of Thrones. The medieval era spanned almost a millennium. But one can easily recognize its design characteristics and tell it apart from those that came after and before it. Let’s not forget it was the period that graced us with stone castles, stained glass windows, and even stone fireplaces.

It’s worth mentioning that medieval architecture and interior design are not a style in themselves. The term actually refers to the architectural and design styles that were prevalent in the medieval era. And while numerous centuries have passed ever since, many of the medieval features are still applicable in modern homes.

Origins and Styles of Medieval Architecture and Design

Also known as the Middle Ages, the medieval era spanned from approximately 500 to 1400 AD. The architectural styles from this age drew much of their influence from religious themes and cathedrals. Gothic architecture and interior design are prime examples of medieval decor. Also exemplifying the regal influences of the medieval style are the royal castles and mansions of the period. While elements of Tudor structures appeared towards the end of the Middle Ages, the main architectural styles that originated from the medieval era are Romanesque and Gothic. 

Romanesque Architecture

Romanesque architecture prevailed in medieval Europe from around 1070 to 1200 AD. Also referred to as Anglo-Norman, the style is characterized by barrel vaults, cruciform piers, and semicircular arches. Occasionally, Romanesque architects made use of pointed arches instead of the more common semicircular ones.

A primary example of Romanesque architecture, the Durham Cathedral in England is home to the shrine of St. Cuthbert.

A primary example of Romanesque architecture, the Durham Cathedral in England is home to the shrine of St. Cuthbert.

The Romanesque ages consisted of different stages. Lasting from 1070 to 1100 AD, the first stage witnessed the birth of the style during the reconstruction of numerous churches, cathedrals, and monasteries. The Norwich Cathedral and the Durham Cathedral are some remaining examples of early Romanesque architecture.

The second stage went on from 1100 to 1200 AD and saw the construction and renovation of many smaller churches. That is when medieval house interiors and architecture placed more emphasis on detailing and ornamentation. The presence of Anglo-Saxon features, however, resulted in an overlap of styles. This made it somewhat tricky to identify the latter structures. 

Gothic Architecture

Spanning from the early 1200s up to the 16th century, Gothic architecture is believed to have emerged from Saint-Denis, France. The style mainly focuses on verticality, featuring stone structures that are seemingly skeletal in form, in addition to pared-down walls and expanses of glass. Notable characteristics that define the Gothic style include ribbed vaults, flying buttresses, pointed arches, pinnacles, clusters of columns, and sharp spires. Stained glass windows portrayed saints and biblical characters. 

Built during the medieval era, the Notre Dame cathedral is Gothic architecture at its finest.

Built during the medieval era, the Notre Dame cathedral is Gothic architecture at its finest.

Architectural innovations like these made it possible to build even taller cathedrals. The hammer-beam roof is one prominent feature of this medieval design style. Although Gothic architecture originated in France, branding it as French would be a misconception. It’s worth mentioning that the style was sometimes called “French work”. However, it eventually spread throughout Europe and evolved along the way. As the medieval era began to fade around the 1500s, the Renaissance style took center stage.

Fun fact: The cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, one of the most famous Gothic structures, didn’t originally feature the flying buttresses that it has today. Bear in mind that these weren’t necessary and their role in architecture was for aesthetic purposes rather than technical. 

Elements of Medieval Design, and How to Apply Them

While the medieval style is an umbrella term that refers to the design types from that era, a number of recurring elements tend to stand out. What’s best about these features is that you can easily apply them to modern settings.

Durable Pieces of Furniture 

Use large wooden furniture to recreate the medieval aesthetic in your home.

Use large wooden furniture to recreate the medieval aesthetic in your home.

Since furniture pieces in medieval times were exclusively crafted by hand, replacing them was a huge investment. As such, it made more sense financially to buy furniture that would last for decades and even generations. Consider going for large, solid units should you be designing a medieval-style house — bonus points if you find something vintage. We’re talking huge dining tables, carved chairs, and bulky benches. You may also want to stay away from anything that looks and feels dainty. Dark oak is an excellent option, although other types may work just fine.

Make sure, however, that the flooring is strong enough to hold out against the weight of the hefty furniture. This is to prevent any scratches and skid marks down the road. 

Hard Floors

Hard flooring plays a key role in medieval interiors whether it's stone, hardwood, or ceramic tiles.

Hard flooring plays a key role in medieval interiors whether it's stone, hardwood, or ceramic tiles.

While the lower class of Medieval times had to make do with packed earth floors, the elite was able to enjoy underfoot comfort with cobbled stone and hardwood flooring. Those who were even wealthier opted for ceramic tiles. Mosaic floors were particularly popular among this class as they reflected individual identities via the patterns.

For an authentic medieval appearance, hard flooring is the go-to option. Not only does it tie the whole space together, but also withstands the commonly heavy pieces of furniture of medieval home decor. Concrete, hardwood flooring, stone, and ceramic tiles are all great options. You can also pair the floors with huge, soft rugs in medieval colors and designs. 

Regal Patterns and Textures

Patterns and textures that allude to royalty are ideal for medieval-inspired living spaces.

Patterns and textures that allude to royalty are ideal for medieval-inspired living spaces.

While stone and wood constituted much of medieval architecture and interior design, people in that era didn’t fall short of comfort and elegance. They were able to form aesthetically and texturally lavish living spaces through creativity and innovation — all without modern advancements.

Combining different fabrics like silk, linen, and wool allowed for the creation of lush interiors, with colorful patterns blended into the weaves.  This resulted in each household having its very own unique identity. To achieve the aesthetic of a medieval-style house, opt for patterns that evoke royalty and eminence. Gothic interiors, for instance, typically feature jacquard weaves. 

Lighting and Shadow

A dramatic contrast between light and shadow adds character to medieval spaces.

A dramatic contrast between light and shadow adds character to medieval spaces.

Natural light flowing in from a window into an otherwise dark space can inject depth and drama. Pair it with large pieces of furniture as well as elements of wood and stone, and the medieval vibes will take form. Bear in mind that electricity didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. As such, people at that time mainly relied on natural light during the daytime and firelight at night. Try recreating that aesthetic with large windows and warm or indirect lighting such as wrought iron wall sconces or large pillar candelabra.

Wall and Color

Tones of gold, green and red are common choices for medieval walls, aside from wall panels and stone.

Tones of gold, green and red are common choices for medieval walls, aside from wall panels and stone.

Another element of medieval house design is wood paneling on walls. An alternative option involves using vertical battens instead. Consider going for oak as it lends a genuine medieval aesthetic.

Walls of stone were also common in the Middle Ages. To emulate medieval stone walls, you can use the faux painting technique — or even stone-effect wallpaper — as long as it doesn’t end up looking tacky. Stone veneer is another option to think about.

Medieval color palettes, on the other hand, tend to be rich. Should you be sticking with ordinary walls, for instance, aim for deep reds, golds, and greens. Other options include dusky pinks, rusts, and blues. You can also apply wallpaper with floral patterns or a heraldic design.

Focal Points and Historic Elements

Shields and swords can make for excellent wall decor.

Shields and swords can make for excellent wall decor.

The go-to choice for focal points in medieval house interiors is the fireplace. In the Middle Ages, fireplaces often extended from floor to ceiling. They were made out of stone, brick, or thick chunks of timber. When designing your home according to the medieval style, make sure the room layout is such that the fireplace is the focal point. You can then reinforce the style using medieval decorations such as heraldic banners and shields as wall decor in addition to statuaries and — if you can find one for a bargain — a suit of armor.

DS

Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian

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