After Shonda Rhimes’s Bridgerton made its buzzy Netflix debut last December, millions lusted after the enigmatic Duke of Hastings. For design-minded viewers, however, the opulent Regency architecture and furnishings were just as easy on the eyes. According to antiques dealers, auction specialists, museum curators, and more, the period’s aesthetics have left a lasting impression on a new wave of consumers—demand for Regency-period furniture and collectibles has never been higher.
“When somebody gets exposed to great objects, they realize how great they are, and it creates a desire for them. This also happened with Downton Abbey,” Bill Rau of M.S. Rau, the longstanding New Orleans–based antique store, tells AD PRO. “All of a sudden not one person is asking about Regency works per week, but 10 or 20.”
While the Regency period technically lasted from 1811 to 1820, the era is often seen as encapsulating the first quarter of the 19th century, a time during which England was, as Rau says, “the most powerful country in the world.” Grand homes were constructed in record numbers, and people sought to showcase their immense wealth, naturally manifesting in decorative-arts items that “stop you in your tracks.”
“The Regency is loud, glamorous, colorful, and much less stuffy than its immediate predecessors, the Baroque and Rococo,” says Wolf Burchard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s associate curator in the department of European sculpture and decorative arts. While Bridgerton fans may recognize several paintings at the Met (including a Velázquez, Benoist, Reynolds and Wright of Derby, all of which made altered appearances in the show), period-appropriate decorative-art pieces can be found in the renovated British Galleries that Burchard helped bring to life last year. “Regency fashion, interior design, and architecture revisit the clean lines of Ancient Greece and Egypt, and the Regency’s color palette is much more vibrant and daring than the soft grays and blues of early Georgian Britain.… This is why the Regency lends itself so well to period dramas—particularly the ones that have a contemporary twist.”
Beyond their privileging of ancient Grecian, Roman, and Egyptian aesthetics (largely stemming from archaeological discoveries), Regency furnishings are characterized by brass inlays, gilding, exotic timbers, and chinoiserie touches, adds Amelia Walker, Christie’s London head of the private and iconic collections department. The auction house reports that its January and March decorative arts sales saw a marked level of interest from Hong Kong and America. In the “Apter-Fredericks: 75 Years of Important English Furniture” sale, for example, a Regency gilt-brass-mounted Indian rosewood secretaire cabinet and a parcel-gilt and cream-painted daybed were among several lots that more than quadrupled their estimates.