Smoking Rooms – Unintentionally Providing Space for Gender Inequality

In Victorian houses, there are simply too many rooms by modern standards.  The idea was to have a separate room for separate activities, replacing the old idea of simply moving furniture around the room to suit various purposes throughout the day.*  One of the rooms I find fascinating is the “smoking room” in Victorian homes.  Tobacco was sort of a fad in England in the 1800’s, but not everyone was a fan.  Smoking rooms emerged for a few reasons.  Initially, the smell of tobacco was thought odious and people smoked outside.  But gradually, people became accustomed and the practice moved indoors.  Inside the house, smoking rooms became assigned, so I’ve read, because women did not want men smoking throughout the house.  It was a room designed to segregate a very specific activity to one room in the home–a room that was not accidentally situated far away from bedrooms, the kitchen, and dining areas.

Smoking rooms were also outfitted with their own specific interior design.  Perhaps most characteristic of the room was the rampant and excessive use of velvet.  Home owners had velvet curtains made, some of the furniture was upholstered with velvet and smoking jackets were routinely made of velvet as well.  The velvet was thought to absorb smoke to rid its odor from the rest of the house.  It’s also true that smoking really ruined rooms, drapes, upholstery, and more.  So, having it relegated to a single room was probably a good idea practically as well.  Dining rooms were actually initially used for similar reasons (we began to use dining rooms right around the same time that we began upholstering furniture en masse).

Smoking rooms were intended to be used after dinner.  The women might gather in the drawing room** and the men would retreat to the smoking room.  As such, it was common practice to decorate the room in a “masculine” style.  Many men displayed gun collections there, decorated the room with Turkish themes (as Turkish tobacco was what they were likely smoking, popularized after the Crimean War), “worldly” books and objects, and more.

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