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    Important note regarding dates and styles...

    These periods are not necessarily the relevant rulers' reigns or lifetimes of individual designers.

    Instead, they reflect the dates historians generally attribute to the popularity of the different styles, remembering that design elements usually overlap as tastes change from period to period.

    The styles dealt with here are not global but relate predominantly to Western Europe.

    Ancient Civilizations
    Overview and Timeline

    Overview - Ancient Civilizations 4000 BCE – 476 CE

    Approximate Timelines...


    In Nomadic times, tribesmen were frequently on the move and there was no need for furniture as we know it.

    Lightweight blankets and roll-up mats were used for sleeping and sitting on with cushions later being added for comfort… and it was only when permanent settlements started being established that tree stumps and rough planks began to be fashioned into crude furniture.

    Throughout the golden eras (first the Egyptians, then the Greeks and finally the Romans) the masses had little in the way of furniture but royalty and the nobility were able to commandeer the best craftsmen and community resources to create what was truly remarkable furniture for the times – as is evident from the perfectly preserved items found in Tutankhamen's tomb.

    This however all came to an end in 476 CE with the fall of the last Roman emperor!

    4000 – 2100 BCE Mesopotamia

    Mesopotamia 4000 – 2100 BCE

    Ancient Mesopotamia was the area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers which would correspond with what is today largely Southern Iraq. It's believed that around 4000 BCE people formed cities there, learned to write, and created governments... which is why it’s often called the 'Cradle of Civilization'.

    Although its official collapse is recorded as 'invasion by other populations', archaeological discoveries show that variations in climate significantly contributed to its decline… and suggest it was unable to overcome the devastating after effects of dust storms around 2100 BCE, which led to an inability to grow crops, famine and mass social upheaval.

    Unfortunately, little is known about furniture during these times as none has survived.

    3500 – 2500 BCE Early Furniture

    Early Furniture 3500 - 2500 BCE

    The earliest 'furniture' that has been discovered dates back to a Neolithic settlement in 3215 BCE where evidence of stone furniture such as cupboards, beds and seating was found.

    Furniture was rare in these times and most regular people used woven baskets to store their few belongings and would sit on mats or blankets, with cushions later being added for comfort.

    But as permanent structures evolved and villages were formed, some rudimentary furniture started appearing amongst the working class in the form of crude chairs, tables, beds and stools.

    3000 – 2000 BCE The Egyptian Era

    The Egyptian Era 3000–2000 BCE

    As skills developed so did the quality of the furniture, but it still remained very rudimentary with 'proper furniture' an exclusive luxury saved for royalty and for the rich and powerful.

    Pieces were individually hand crafted and although they had mostly straight lines and boxy shapes they were ornate and opulent – often inlaid with ivory and gold and designed to showcase the superior status of their owners. Much of the knowledge gained of this time was learned from the quality of the items found in the tombs of the Pharaohs.

    2000 – 300 BCE The Greek Era

    The Greek Era 2000-300 BCE

    The earliest Greek furniture was influenced by the boxy designs of Egypt but by 500 BCE they started developing more of their own style.

    Inlays and carvings continued to be used but more sparingly, and softer lines with curves were introduced.

    31 BCE – 476 CE The Roman Era

    The Roman Era 31 BCE – 476 CE

    The Romans were entertainers and often had people in their homes for social, political or economic reasons and therefore needed lots of chairs – for the average Roman these were essentially stools but wealthier Romans also had folding stools, a status symbol of the time.

    Furniture was made from wood, metal and stone (generally marble) with more ornate and elaborate shapes emphasizing the status and wealth of their owners.

    Lounging or reclining couches were used extensively for entertaining and in poorer homes they doubled as beds at night.

    This however all came to an end in 476 CE with the fall of the last Roman emperor!

    Medieval, Renaissance, Restoration and Baroque
    Overview and Timeline

    Overview - Medieval, Renaissance, Restoration and Baroque
    500 CE – 1700 CE

    Approximate Timelines...


    In 476 CE the last Roman emperor fell. Western Europe lost the order the Roman structures had brought and was plunged into almost a thousand years of stagnation. Society degenerated into mainly small kingdoms and lordships that were often at each other's throats and life was brutal and short with the average human living only into their thirties.

    The limited furniture that people owned had to be functional and portable as they were frequently on the move, fleeing from danger, starvation and disease. Most furniture had several functions and was related to eating and sleeping (or both) because that was what was necessary for life.

    There was little in the way of luxury and most people owned nothing, including furniture, that was not directly related to their survival.


    A growth in trade during the early 1300s brought new products and ideas to Italy and rekindled an interest in art, philosophy, politics and economics… marking the transition from the darkness of the Middle Ages to relative modernity.

    During the mid 1400s furniture became more freely available to all people but its quality varied widely among the social classes. Only the wealthiest could afford the more elaborate pieces which were characterized by opulent, often gilded designs that frequently included floral, vegetal and scrolling ornamentation… but nevertheless this marked the beginning of what would, during the next few centuries, provide an unprecedented array of furniture ideas and styles.


    The Jacobean furniture of the early 1600s was stern, square and frugal, a suitable style for a time of relative poverty… and this continued after King Charles was overthrown by Oliver Cromwell who introduced Puritan values and austerity into England.

    When Cromwell died in 1659 King Charles II, who had been in exile in Europe, was restored to the throne (an event creating what came to be known as the Restoration Era) and he brought with him the more progressive ideas and trends prevalent in Europe. This brought English furniture back into line with European design movements, in particular with the opulence of baroque furniture.


    During the same time that Jacobean and Restoration styles were evolving with lighter, less elaborate designs, Baroque furniture with its exaggerated decorations and details was becoming popular amongst the nobility and aristocracy as a symbol of their power and wealth… and these styles co-existed side by side (but in different segments of society) until a whole range of completely new designs started appearing in the early 1700’s.

    500 – 1450 CE Medieval (Also known as The Dark Ages)

    Medieval Period CE (also known as the dark ages)
    500 CE – 1450 CE

    • Furniture was generally dark and drab, embellished with metal and some carving.
    • Forms were mainly straight lines with very little in the way of circular shapes or curved lines.
    In 476 CE the last Roman Emperor fell and the world entered the 'dark ages' that lasted until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

    This period of almost 1000 years was possibly the least memorable in all of history and this is reflected in the furniture styles described above.

    Fast forward to the 21st century… and in many parts of the western world medieval furniture is again becoming popular, modernized with bright fabrics, rush or reed matting on the floors and adorning the walls with stencils in heraldic designs, tapestries, period style shields, weapons and armour.

    1450 – 1600 Renaissance

    The Renaissance 1450 – 1600

    • Still very influenced by the earlier classics, especially the Greek and Roman Eras.
    • Designs continued to be heavy but were simpler with more intricate and detailed carvings.

    A growth in trade brought new products and ideas to Italy and rekindled an interest in art, philosophy, politics, economics and the home… marking the transition from the darkness of the Middle Ages to relative modernity.

    Renaissance furniture, although still heavy, had simpler designs but with more intricate and detailed carvings. It also became more freely available to all people but its quality varied among the social classes… and only the wealthiest could afford the more elaborate pieces which were characterized by opulent, often gilded designs that frequently included floral, vegetal and scrolling ornamentation.

    Typical pieces included the marriage chest which was a wooden box decorated on the top and sides, and used both to store items and as room decoration… whilst in poorer classes they were also used as a table and to sleep on.

    Beds, especially canopy beds with four pillars, were popular amongst the wealthy and nobility because only they could afford them and the same happened with chairs… while the wealthy had large, comfortable and elaborate chairs, the lower classes had simpler chairs with the scissor or x-shaped chair being a common item, especially in smaller rooms where they could be folded out of the way.

    Styles were heavily influenced by the earlier classics, especially the Greek and Roman eras, and these new designs soon spread to Europe where furniture makers there began to embellish them with their own ideas… and this marked the beginning of what would, during the next few centuries, provide an unprecedented array of furniture ideas and styles.

    1600 – 1660 Jacobean

    Jacobean 1600 – 1660

    • Styles were stern, square and frugal.
    • Decorated with carvings and motifs that were more three-dimensional than previously.
    • The first era where upholstery really appeared.

    'Jacobean' is derived from the Latin name of James I who reigned as King of England from 1603 and the furniture of the era was stern, square and frugal, a suitable style for a time of relative poverty.

    Whilst still linear and bulky, it was lighter and decorated with carvings and motifs that were more three-dimensional than its predecessors. It also introduced for the first time in England the concept of comfort in chairs and was the first era where upholstery really appeared.

    1660 – 1700 Restoration

    Restoration 1660 - 1700

    • A plethora of new, ornate designs.
    • Intricate carvings, colorful upholstery with tasseled trim.
    • Techniques of veneering, gilding, marquetry and lacquering.

    The period from 1660 to 1700 is known as the Restoration Period because Charles II returned from exile in Europe and was restored as King of England after the death in 1659 of Oliver Cromwell... thereby ending decades of Puritan austerity.

    It brought with it an atmosphere of gaiety and cheerfulness and restored pre-Puritan values and morals… and also brought English furniture back into line with European design movements, in particular with the opulence of baroque furniture.

    During this period a great number of new, ornate models were developed, characterized by intricate carvings, colorful upholstery with tasseled trim and the techniques of veneering, gilding, marquetry and lacquering.

    These styles spread rapidly into the homes of wealthy Londoners but in many provincial areas of England craftsmen continued with the semi-Gothic and Jacobean designs as well as the plain and simple Cromwellian styles.

    1590 – 1700 Baroque (Co-existing with Jacobean and Restoration)

    Baroque 1590 – 1700 (Co-existing with Jacobean and Restoration)

    • Oversized furniture featuring symmetrical details on both sides.
    • Elaborate curves, ornate carvings, stylized foliage and replicated animal and human feet.
    • Symbolic details like cherubs and animals adorned the corners and the top of the legs.

    During the same time that Jacobean and Restoration styles were evolving with lighter, less elaborate designs, Baroque furniture with its exaggerated decorations and details was becoming popular amongst the nobility and aristocracy as a symbol of their power and wealth… and these styles co-existed side by side (but in different segments of society) until a whole range of completely new designs started appearing in the early 1700’s.

    This style is characterized by oversized furniture where details were symmetrically replicated on both sides and featured heavy moldings, plenty of curves and exaggerated decorations, often with marble tops.

    Elaborate compositions made with inlays became characteristic and by the end of the 1600s gilded finishes were the trend.… gold being associated with wealth, and having golden furniture was the ultimate luxury. Golden chandeliers, frames for mirrors or paintings and even doorknobs with golden decorations became popular.

    Decorative motifs usually incorporated stylized foliage and geometrics with spirals and curves while figurative details like cherubs and animals adorned the corners and the top of the legs.

    But Baroque furniture was not only about detail and exaggeration… and whilst most other furniture had frameworks of unrelated surfaces, in Baroque the details were related to the whole with each detail contributing to the harmonious movement of the overall design.

    However, towards the end of the 1600s, Baroque furniture became simpler and less ostentatious… following more the lighter and more elegant profiles introduced by William and Mary.

    European Period, Revival, Traditional and Colonial
    European Period Furniture
    Overview and Timeline

    Overview - European Period Furniture 1690 - 1840

    Approximate Timelines...


    The 1700s and 1800s saw rapid changes in European furniture design and is considered the golden age of the cabinet maker with furniture being carefully designed and constructed by artisans trained in the fine craft of furniture making.

    But this era did not merely modify or tweak the previous styles. Instead, a new series of individual styles were created which were completely different to the heavier historical styles… and these new designs have collectively become known as 'Period Furniture'.

    Important note regarding dates and styles…

    1. The dates shown in individual sections DO NOT, and are not intended to correspond with the periods of the relevant rulers’ reigns or the lifetimes of individual designers.
    2. Instead, they reflect the dates that historians generally attribute to the popularity of different styles… and of course design elements will always overlap as styles change from period to period.
    1690 – 1720 William and Mary

    William and Mary 1690 - 1720

    • Lighter and more elegant profiles… with serpentine stretchers and cane or padded chair seats.
    • Inverted trumpet legs with round or bun feet… but sometimes with a Spanish foot flaring to a scroll.
    • Marquetry… inlaying pieces of coloured wood or other materials to form decorative patterns.
    • Oriental lacquer-work… known as “japanning”.

    Although William and Mary furniture was still dark and dramatic it rejected the blocky right angles of Jacobean and earlier furniture, instead favouring soft curves and elegant spirals… with chairs, tables, desks and chests raised higher off the ground. It was also physically lighter and thinner with inverted, cup-turned legs, bun feet and serpentine stretchers… influenced by the Dutch craftsmen King William brought with him to England from Holland.

    The spark for the transformation from heavy to lightweight furniture was the development of a technique known as dovetailing… which are interlocking tapered triangles or trapezoids that interlock and hold adjacent pieces of wood together with glue and friction. While the technique had technically existed for millennia it hadn’t become a big part of English furniture, but it now changed the way craftsmen could distribute and absorb weight, allowing their creations to be made taller and from thinner wood.

    Marquetry, with exotic woods like ebony and maple used in the inlays, was the most common form of decoration with shells, leaves and flowers being the most predominant.

    And following increased trade with the east, Europe became fascinated with it's furniture and porcelain… and furniture makers learned how to imitate oriental paintwork known as japanning - a lacquering process combining ashes and varnish.

    1710 – 1750 Queen Anne

    Queen Anne 1710 - 1750

    • Claimed to be the first ergonomically chair built to support the spine and the first seat cushion for comfort.
    • Minimal other ornamentation or embellishment.
    • Light and elegant with curved lines in the legs, feet, arms and pediments.
    • Walnut was the most utilized wood although many pieces were made in cherry, poplar and maple.

    A new type of even lighter weight furniture commissioned during the reign of Queen Anne became popular in the homes of trending cities after 1710 and for the first time included a range of matching items such as tables, chairs, display cabinets, bookcases and secretary desks, as well as bedroom furniture like highboys and dressing tables.

    In a significant break from the relative heaviness of the William and Mary styles, the oversized turned legs of the past were replaced by the cabriole leg modelled after an animal’s legs and this feature remains the most recognizable element of the Queen Anne style. The balance achieved by cabriole legs made it possible to support top-heavy furniture while another feature of these slim legs was that they surprisingly did not require the support of stretchers.

    Heavy ball feet which were characteristic of previous styles were replaced with graceful pad feet, and the heavier turnings and carvings were replaced by lightweight curves in the arms… with pediments being the only other adornments used in this style, often with carved shells and S-scrolls.

    In cabinetry, japanned decoration was used sparingly and tended to be in red, green and gilt, often on a blue-green field.

    1710 – 1760 Rococo (Also known as Late Baroque)

    Rococo (Also known as Late Baroque) 1710 – 1760

    • Light, airy and decorative compared with the heavy, serious and dramatic Baroque pieces it superseded.
    • Highly embellished, often featuring whimsical themes incorporating asymmetry, curves and gold finishes.​

    Baroque furniture, which was heavy, serious and dramatic, had largely gone out of fashion by the late 1600s but during the early 1700s it slowly and gradually resuscitated… morphing into the new Rococo style which was lighter, airier and more decorative.​​

    Rococo started in France and derived its name from the French word ‘rocailles’ used to describe the magnificent arrangements of rocks, shells and artificial grottoes in the garden of Versailles.

    During the 1740s, the Rococo style crept into English furniture as Chippendale and other cabinetmakers adopted the challenge of these elaborate designs. This was ‘the golden age’ of furniture manufacture… the ingenuity of the cabinetmaker and carver knew few limitations and the range of shapes and designs exploded, with variants on the Chippendale chair splat alone running into several hundreds.

    True Rococo pieces are highly embellished, often featuring whimsical themes incorporating asymmetry, curves, serpentine lines and gold finishes… the curves introduced not only to external profiles such as legs and supports but also to the case itself.​​

    1720 – 1770 Georgian

    Georgian 1720 – 1770

    • A more decorative version of the Queen Anne style.​
    • Heavier proportions, elaborately carved cabriole legs.​
    • Pierced back splats with ball and claw feet.​
    • Walnut replaced by mahogany.

    The Georgian period was named after Kings George I and George II who reigned over England from 1714 to 1770 but as regards furniture it started around 1720 and lasted until 1770... when it was replaced by the new emerging styles of Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Neoclassicism.

    Georgian furniture was a more decorative version of the Queen Anne style with heavier proportions and with mahogany from Central and South America replacing walnut as the primary wood in furniture making.

    Chairs became smaller and more delicate with lower backs, often oval or rounded, and with pierced back splats. Carving, although ornate, was in low relief and with classic details, later highlighted with gilding.

    The cabriole leg continued initially but with the ball-and-claw foot replacing the round foot… although later the more slender straight leg replaced the cabriole leg as part of a generally lighter construction.

    These same characteristics applied as well to other forms of furniture such as tables, cabinets, armoires, couches and occasional pieces.

    1750 – 1830 Neoclassical

    Neoclassical 1750 – 1830

    • Evolved with adding Classical motifs on to existing furniture forms.
    • Incorporated simpler designs with legs that became straight, tapered and fluted.
    • No single predominant ‘look’ or ‘theme’.

    Becoming tired of the more elegant Queen Anne and Georgian styles and of Rococo extravagances, craftsmen turned back to Classical influences for inspiration.​​

    Initially, Classical motifs were added sparingly to existing furniture forms, but slowly the older curved lines were replaced by simpler designs with legs that became straight, tapered and fluted… and in the last quarter of the 1700s styles generally became lighter and more delicate.

    Heart and shield shaped backs on chairs and settees as well as tapered or fluted supports for tables and other pieces were characteristic... as were carved, painted and inlaid decorations of feathers, wheat ears and shells.

    However, there is no single predominant ‘look’ or ‘theme’ in Neoclassical... as was previously discernible in earlier styles such as Queen Anne, Georgian and Rococo. ‘Neoclassical’ can be elegant with simple flowing lines… intricate with carvings, inlays and japanning… or dramatic with new shapes and ideas boldly manifesting themselves.

    Apart from the inclusion of Classical elements, the main distinguishing features for Neoclassicism are simpler, straighter legs (whether fluted, reeded, tapered, embellished or even slightly bent), lower heights for chairs and sofas… and the astonishing array of shapes and patterns created by the master craftsmen of the time.

    1750 – 1790 Chippendale

    Chippendale 1750 – 1790

    • Straight or curved legs with claws at the bottom of chairs, sofa and dressers.
    • Tall cabinets with broken pediment scroll tops.
    • Intricate carvings such as scallop shells, leaves, fruits, flowers and birds.

    During the mid 1700s, Queen Anne and Georgian styles were overtaken by the ’Chippendale design’ which introduced previously unheard of levels of intricacy and craftsmanship, especially in the detail of the splats on his chair backs which included ‘ribboning’ and the new technique of ‘piercing’.

    Thomas Chippendale himself was much more than a cabinet maker… he was also an interior designer who advised on other aspects of decor such as soft furnishings and wall colours, as well as being able to work with other specialists to supply fully decorated and furnished rooms or even whole houses.

    He rose to prominence after he became the first cabinet maker to publish a book of furniture designs that was published in 1754… and he was also the first to have a style named after him.

    The designs he developed were influenced by ancient cultures such as the Romans and Gothic influences, and were identified by either straight or curved legs with claws at the bottom of chairs, sofa and dressers… tall cabinets with broken pediment scroll tops… and intricate carvings such as scallop shells, leaves, fruits, flowers and birds. The most popular wood used in this period was mahogany with walnut, maple and cherry also present.

    Not only was he the first cabinet maker to have a style named after him... but the Chippendale aesthetic has stood the test of time as it has continued to be a part of even modern day interior design since its inception. ​​

    1780 – 1810 Hepplewhite

    Hepplewhite 1780 – 1810

    • Graceful and elegant with geometric shapes, usually curved or circular.
    • Straight legs, either square or tapered, often reeded or fluted with simple spade or tapered arrow feet.
    • Embellished with small carvings and decorative motifs including graceful swags, curling ribbons and feathers.

    Hepplewhite designs included many elements of the Neoclassical era so, in contrast to the popular curving cabriole legs of earlier styles, Hepplewhite pieces usually have straight legs… either square or tapered and often with reeded or fluted edges to imitate the Classical columns of Greek and Roman architecture. Their feet are usually simple… taking the shape of a rectangular spade or tapered arrow, but larger, heavier pieces such as chests, desks and bookcases usually have bracket feet.

    His furniture is particularly known for its graceful, delicate appearance and his pieces have simple geometric shapes, usually curved or circular. Sofa and chair arms curve outward, seats have rounded fronts and chair backs are usually shaped like ovals or shields, the shield-back chair perhaps being the best-known of all his styles.

    Despite being simple, most are embellished with small carvings or intricate inlaid patterns and veneers. Common decorative motifs include graceful swags, curling ribbons, feathers, classical urns and foliage which reflect the popularity of Neoclassical styles during this period.

    Hepplewhite furniture has never gone out of style. Recognizable features such as the shield back, fluted legs, and the serpentine front remain standard in traditional furniture design… and are often considered classics that easily fit in with a variety of decorating styles. ​​

    1790 – 1820 Sheraton

    Sheraton 1790 – 1820

    • Lighter and more delicate than Hepplewhite.
    • Straight, simple legs, sometimes round and often fluted.
    • The detail was in the ornamentation which included fluting, patterned marquetry, inlaid decorations and low relief carvings.

    Thomas Sheraton was a furniture designer and teacher who trained as a cabinetmaker and became popular through his written guides, in particular ”The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book” published in 1791. His styles share many similarities with Hepplewhite but with a notably lighter and more elegant feel.

    Chair legs were straight and tended to be thinner, ending in simple unadorned feet… often rounded or fluted to resemble Greek columns. Chair and sofa profiles were largely linear… while cabinets and occasional pieces had well proportioned geometric shapes that were almost architectural in design.

    His construction was lighter with delicate straight lines, the detail being in the ornamentation! Some pieces were completely painted, dyed, or japanned with inlaid decorations… whilst others had intricately patterned marquetry and veneers, often in dramatically contrasting woods… and yet still others were embellished with small, low relief carvings featuring swags, tusks, lyres, feathers, flowers, rosettes, and lions’ or rams’ heads.

    1795 – 1840 Regency

    Regency 1795 – 1840

    • Reduction in fluting and carving.
    • Flatter, linear surfaces better able to highlight the new styles of ornamentation.
    • Gilding and metal accents added ornateness and dramatic effects.
    • Tall cabinets reduced in height to allow more functional use of wall space.

    In 1789 the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy and introduced new ideas, including fresh styles in furniture which quickly spread throughout Europe. In England it was called ‘Regency’ after the Prince of Wales was appointed ruler in 1811 with the official title of Regent.

    Curved surfaces and elaborate carvings disappeared… providing flatter, linear surfaces better able to highlight the new styles of ornamentation which included metalwork, both inlaid and attached to the surface, as well as exotic woods such as rosewood and zebrawood which allowed the striking use of colour in the veneers.

    Apart from the painted finishes and highlights, it was particularly the use of gilding and metal accents that added ornateness and dramatic effects… with brass inlays, legs capped with paw feet, handles with rings in rosettes or lions' heads, and accents along corners and legs decorating many pieces.

    The size of furniture also changed… with the tall cabinets and shelving units shrinking in height to allow decorators to ornament the walls with paintings and decorative mouldings, and to better flaunt clients’ curios and treasures.

    In the final stages of the Regency style, however, both the design and construction of furniture showed signs of heaviness and over elaboration.

    Revival Styles
    1820 - 1830 Emergence of Revival Styles

    Emergence of Revival Styles 1820 - 1830

    Historical Styles...

    Whilst Medieval furniture was dark, drab and crudely made with little thought to styling, the Renaissance from 1450 introduced flowing shapes and elaborate carvings… and during the Jacobean era from the early 1600s furniture became less bulky and had more three-dimensional ornamentation… but it was the return of Charles II from exile in 1660 that sparked a plethora of fresh designs using the new techniques of veneering, gilding, marquetry and lacquering that he brought with him and which became known as the Restoration era.

    Co-existing with these latter two styles, Baroque furniture with its oversized proportions, elaborate curves and ornate sinewy carvings had become popular amongst the nobility and aristocracy as a symbol of their power and wealth.

    Under William and Mary, the 1690s brought lighter and more elegant profiles with serpentine stretchers, inverted trumpet legs and more stylish marquetry and japanning… but it was Queen Anne in the early 1700s who transformed furniture styles with the cabriole leg which, coupled with an almost complete lack of other ornamentation or embellishment, introduced an air of uncluttered elegance.

    This was the beginning of a new generation of streamlined profiles that included Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Regency and which lasted until the early 1800s, co-existing side by side with the more flamboyant and extravagant Rococo and Neoclassical styles.

    Emergence of Revival Styles…

    By the mid 1820s the clean lines of earlier periods had moved out of favour and everyone wanted furniture that was showier and had an abundance of detail and curves… which was now possible thanks to the speed of mechanisation introduced by the Industrial Revolution.

    It was 1839 and Queen Victoria had just taken the throne which she would occupy until 1901. It was an exciting new era with a queen who loved ornate styles, a rising middle class eager to flaunt their new status, and designers who were tasked with providing bulk orders to feed the factories!

    They turned to the Classics for inspiration and adapted them to what they perceived the current market was wanting… the result being a half century of mass produced furniture whose common denominator was excessive ornamentation in the form of applied metal or wood carvings, inlays and stencils... and which historians have since labelled as ‘Victorian’ or ‘Revival’ furniture, and which only ended around 1890 with the rise of the Arts & Crafts movement.

    There's nothing new about nostalgia! Furniture designers often get inspired by or mimic ideas from previous periods… but this tendency was particularly strong during the mid to late 1800s which saw wave after wave of Revival styles as furniture makers systematically pillaged the past for ideas.

    Often their interpretations only vaguely resembled the actual pieces from those periods… but they were designing for a market that was wanting smart furniture, not a history lesson!

    Revival styles overlapped to a great degree, both as to when they were in vogue and the design elements that were used… and it is for this reason they are generally all referred to as ‘Victorian’ despite many styles being significantly different from one another.

    1830 – 1890 The Victorian Era

    The Victorian Era 1830 – 1890

    What was the Victorian Era?...

    Revival Furniture is often referred to as ‘Victorian’ but this is misleading because there is no such thing as ‘Victorian furniture’

    Instead, the term ‘Victorian’ has become a colloquial reference for the range of different styles that evolved from individual designers (read factories) during the Revival era of 1830 to 1890, which had already started during the late 1820s following a new interest in furniture that was showier and flaunted lavish details and curves.

    The early Victorian era was one of the first to herald mass production… and was often dominated by dark Gothic and Renaissance forms with heavy proportions and elaborate carving. As regards interior room settings and décor, Victorian interiors are especially known for their cluttered, ‘include everything’ look… walls covered with wallpaper and mouldings and filled with heavy furniture surrounded by plants, heavy fabrics and lots of china and glassware!

    The era continued its evolution with a confusing array of styles and attempts at novelty… and only ended around 1890 with the rise of the Arts & Crafts movement and the emergence of Art Nouveau and Art Deco furniture.

    What was the Victorian Style?...

    There is really no such thing as ‘Victorian style’… instead, the 1800s saw furniture makers and designers each introducing their own interpretations of previous Classical eras, many of which bore minimal resemblance to the original styles… and these ‘new designs’ have come to be known as either ‘Revival Styles’ or ‘Victorian’, the latter mainly because they were introduced during her reign.

    However, whilst most furniture produced during this era is referred to as ‘Revival’ or ‘Victorian’, they did not all have the same style… and their timelines often overlapped, both as to when they were popular and in the design elements that were used.

    Historical timelines clearly identify several sub-styles during this era, of which Gothic and Rococo were the most dominant but which also included Elizabethan, Rococo and Louis XVI.

    1840 – 1890 Distinctive Revival Styles

    Distinctive Revival Styles 1840 – 1890

    Approximate Timelines...


    The mid 1800s saw wave after wave of Revival styles as furniture makers turned to past Classical designs for inspiration… but they were also manufacturing for ‘the market’ and their interpretations often only vaguely resembled the pieces from the actual periods. The most common denominator during this era was the Victorian ‘more is more’ philosophy as a stark contrast to the more elegant styles of the 1700s and early 1800s.

    The Victorian era was such a long one, lasting from 1830 to 1890, that not one but several distinct furniture styles appeared… each one recreating a classical period of the past, starting with Medieval in the pre 1400s and progressing through Renaissance to Louis XVI in the late 1700s.

    These styles overlapped to a great degree… both as to when they were popular and in the design elements that were used… and whilst they were generally all referred to as ‘Revival’ or ‘Victorian’ (without necessarily specifying their specific genre), historical timelines clearly identify several sub-styles, including…

    Gothic Revival (Original Period 1150 - 1600)...

    These pieces are relatively easy to identify as it’s one of the few styles that includes elements from original architectural structures into the furniture… in particular, Gothic architecture from the mid 1100s to the late 1400s… such as pointed arches, turrets, spiky pilasters (square columns), rosette motifs and quatrefoils (architectural designs of four lobes or leaves resembling a flower or clover leaf).

    Although most of these designs were based on original pieces, there was some originality… and a new type of open shelving, known as an étagère, was born in this period, allowing Victorians to have more room to display their treasured collections.

    There was nothing modest about Gothic Revival furniture. Tables and chairs were not only massive in size, dominating the room… but also ornate and ostentatious, designed primarily for the nobility and wealthy.

    Renaissance Revival (Original period 1450 – 1600)...

    Renaissance Revival furniture was often gargantuan with exaggerated ornamentation… ideal for the Victorian ‘more is more’ philosophy.

    Dark woods were used, usually mahogany or walnut, with accents in rosewood and ebony… walnut being the preferred wood as was used in the 1500s, and this was probably the most accurate observance of the style to the original Renaissance.

    Ornamentation included high relief carving of animals and Classical busts… as well as tassels, scrolls, flowers and fruits. Strapwork was also used, generally on flat panels… strapwork being stylised ribbon-like forms imitating leather straps, parchment or metal, either pierced or interwoven into a variety of geometric patterns.

    Other recognisable features included fluted legs with extensively turned profiles, heavily carved finials and crests… and raised or inset panels often with detailed strapwork.

    Elizabethan Revival (Original period 1560 – 1620)...

    Running almost parallel with Renaissance Revival furniture were rebirths of the Elizabethan era… which historically started during the the latter years of the Renaissance in 1560 and was the first era to have a style named after it, continuing for some sixty years until 1620 when it was overtaken by the Jacobean era.

    Revival styles were still harsh but with more detail and exaggeration than the original furniture. Legs were predominantly straight with turnings or fluting and chair backs tended to be high and narrow, but now with a slight back tilt for better comfort… while decoratively painted surfaces and upholstery, especially when combined with needlework, imbued softness and a more feminine touch befitting of the original queen.

    Carved flowers, vegetal detail, strapping and oversized bulbous acorns deflected some of the harshness from these pieces but they still conveyed the austerity of the original era.

    Rococo Revival (Original period 1710 – 1760)...

    Rococo Revival epitomized grandeur and luxury, with the cabriole leg being the most used regardless of the foot style. The use of marble for console and table tops was popular, with the corners shaped to follow the lines of the case… and in some pieces cast iron elements were used, especially if they were cast as scrolls.

    Upholstery was prolific, usually bloated and with over-generous proportions… as inner springs had been perfected and comfort was now an important consideration.

    The main differences to the original Rococo period were that, in keeping with the Revival trend of larger pieces and increased ornamentation, these recreations were even more exaggerated and audacious, and their carvings were executed in much higher relief than during the original period… which was itself highly decorative and embellished.

    Louis XVI Revival (Original period 1450 – 1600)...

    In contrast to much of the heavy, curvy furniture during the Victorian era, the one style that flew away with straight lines was the Empire style of Louis XVI… which was part of the Neoclassicism that developed in France during the 1770s as a reaction against the elaborate ornamentation of the preceding Rococo style.

    Although it lacks the familiar Victorian lines, the Second Empire style which lasted from 1845 to 1880 was very much a part of the Revival era with its eclectic mix of past and present as well as its unadulterated luxury.

    Unlike Gothic, Renaissance and Elizabethan recreations, Louis XVI Revival furniture was not oversized or austere… legs were straight and usually fluted with slight tapers, with the framework delicately adorned with ovals, arches, applied medallions, wreaths, garlands, urns and other Victorian flourishes.

    Despite the gilded and limewashed effects in the images below, most furniture of the era was made from expensive woods such as ebony, rosewood and walnut… with even darker woods sometimes being used to contrast the lighter ornamentation.


    In addition to the main Revival themes described above, there were several minor sub-themes that specifically tried to revive their ancient civilizations, especially the Egyptian, Greek and Roman styles, but these were too niche to attract large adoption.

    The unprecedented display of opulence and wealth during the Revival (read Victorian) era was facilitated by the vast array of styles and profiles that could now be produced following the machinery introduced by the Industrial Revolution… and it only ended around 1890 with the rise of the Arts & Crafts movement and the emergence of Art Nouveau and Art Deco furniture.

    1870 – 1890 Charles Eastlake

    Charles Eastlake 1870 – 1890

    Charles Eastlake was an English architect and designer who published a popular book in 1868 called ‘Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details’… which rejected the strong curves and high relief carvings of Victorian furniture, instead promoting the idea of furniture with simpler geometric shapes and low relief ornamentation.

    He personally hated machine-made furniture, but he was an architect not a furniture maker and he never made any of his own designs… which he described as ‘sturdy and simple craftsmanship’. His driving principle was the triple relationship between ‘function’ (what it’ll be used for), ‘form’ (what it should look like) and ‘craftsmanship’ (how it should be made).

    Compared with the then current Victorian styles, his basic shapes tended to have relatively straight lines and his legs and chair backs were straighter, often incorporating squares and rectangles. He favoured flat surfaces that were easy to keep clean… with understated ornamentation comprising grooves, mouldings, low relief ornamentation.

    Popular between 1870 and 1890, his importance lies in the complete contrast of his philosophies and shapes to the Victorian (read Revival) designs with their heavy curves, exaggerated ornamentation and high relief carvings. He was one of the first to strongly advocate a shift towards simpler furniture… and what was significant was his emphasis on craftsmanship, which was a complete contrast to the deteriorating standards that were coming out of many of the mass production factories.

    Interestingly, his ideas were closely connected with the Arts and Crafts movement of the time (1860 – 1910) which also rejected mechanized processes in favour of handmade and artisanal pieces… but Eastlake’s emphasis was more on less ornamentation and his designs would be considered quite ostentatious when compared to the Arts and Crafts’ simplicity.

    So, why should Eastlake be included as part of Revival Styles? Well, simply because (a) his styles were introduced during the last 20 years of this era, and (b) because the popularity of his book and the influence of his understated ornamentation helped precipitate the beginning-of-the-end for the Revival (read Victorian) era.

    Traditional and Colonial
    1450 – 1890 Traditional and Medieval

    Traditional 1450 – 1890

    The early 1900s saw the electrification of machines and the birth of ‘Modern’ furniture which incorporated new materials such as steel, bent plywood and mouldable plastics. The date 1900 has historically become accepted as the true end of Traditional furniture styles… despite many niche pieces continuing to be produced and used in a variety of décor environments even today.

    But what exactly was Traditional Furniture?…

    We know that until the late 1890s all furniture was made from solid woods and that the decorative detail was mainly in the shapes of the legs, chair backs, pediments and carving. We also know that historians have defined the styles that evolved during these 450 years as ‘Medieval, Baroque, Queen Anne, Chippendale, NeoClassical, Revival, etc’ to name but a few.

    But today, all furniture styles designed and made until the introduction of the simpler styles of the Arts and Crafts movement in the latter half of the 1800s are collectively known as ‘Traditional’ furniture… and this includes Colonial styles as they fall within this time period.

    The individual eras…

    However, despite this ‘catch all’ grouping, individual styles can still be, and frequently are, referred to by their respective eras... which are summarised below.

    During the early eras, from the mid 1400s right through the Renaissance to the start of the 1700s, furniture was heavy, rectangular and boxy with minimal decoration… and is today collectively referred to as ‘Medieval’, the exception being the hugely ornate and exaggerated Baroque style which is known by that name.

    The Queen Anne era, from 1710 onwards, introduced completely new lightweight designs which were cleaner, and featured curved lines in the legs with minimal other ornamentation or embellishment… and this was followed by ‘the golden age of the cabinetmaker’ which saw a proliferation of styles that lasted until the early 1800s.

    Like the co-existence of Baroque during the previous era, the latter part of this era saw the coexistence of Neoclassicism which started around 1750 and lasted until the 1820s… introducing simpler designs with straighter fluted legs and classical influences.

    By the mid 1820s the clean lines of earlier periods had moved out of favour and everyone wanted furniture that was showier with an abundance of detail and curves. Designers turned to the Classics for inspiration and adapted them to what they perceived the current market was wanting… the result being a half century of mass-produced furniture whose common denominator was excessive ornamentation.

    This was the Revival era, also known as Victorian because it coincided with the reign of Queen Victoria who took the throne in 1837... and it ended with the growth of grass roots movements such as Eastlake and Arts and Crafts which advocated simpler designs and a return to quality workmanship by individual craftsmen.

    The end of the Revival era also marked the end of ‘Traditional Furniture Styles’ that had been characterized for centuries by ornate, elaborate designs… comprising dark wood, fluting or carving with vegetal, architectural or Classical references, legs with hoof or claw footed feet, and fully upholstered winged back chairs and couches… albeit that a significant part of the 1700s did produce some simpler and more elegant designs.

    1600 – 1780 Colonial (Both British and American)

    Colonial (Both British and American 1600 – 1780 and beyond…


    ‘Colonial’ is the term given to styles incorporated into distant colonies from a mother country.

    It began in the early 1500s after Columbus discovered America in 1492 and sparked Europe’s Age of Discovery… and although most European countries created colonies it’s only British colonialism that concerns us here.

    British Colonial…

    British Colonial furniture started appearing in colonized areas from the 1600s based on the styles then prevalent in England, particularly late Georgian, Regency and Victorian... but these local versions were less ornate and in woods native to the colonies, such as ebony, teak and mahogany... and frequently incorporated design elements of the colonies in which they were made, such as wicker, bamboo and rattan.

    Climate, lifestyles and customs of the local populations also contributed to changing the original British designs into more basic, lighter and multifunctional furniture, more suitable for these overseas environments.

    The successful merging of these varied styles created a unique look that is still emulated today… and evokes the romance of a bygone era that was genteel and elegant, while at the same time appearing relaxed and comfortable. Several iconic pieces were developed and have never dated, such as the four-posted bed with mosquito netting, the plantation style armchair and the day bed which was a great place to while away lazy afternoons.


    American Colonial…

    Although based on the same British parent styles, American and British Colonial styles displayed very different characteristics... the British styles reflecting the cultures, lifestyles and weather conditions in each colony… while the American styles intially embodied the religious beliefs of the early settlers, and later the ethos and lifestyle of a new developing nation. In addition, American Colonial styles were divided into two separate and distinct eras.

    Up to the Declaration of Independence in 1776…

    The first settlers in America were religious groups fleeing from religious persecution… the Pilgrims in the early 1600s, followed by the Puritans in the 1630s and the Quakers during the 1670s. Not all were poor, and several, especially amongst the Quakers, were wealthy investors also fleeing rising taxes and political discontent.

    Many of these settlers arrived with little in the way of furniture apart from some chests and seating… but later groups brought more elaborate furniture… usually sturdy and heavily carved with turned legs and bun feet, which craftsmen adapted to be more practical and functional for their harsh, utilitarian new lifestyle.

    As life in the colonies became more settled and local furniture makers began to emerge, their designs echoed the British characteristics of the William and Mary, Queen Anne and Chippendale styles, but were more conservative and with less ornamentation, befitting the utilitarian nature of the then settler lifestyle… although the designs did include both casual, country-style pieces and very formal, traditional pieces.

    The ethos of the time was for the furniture to be multifunctional first, and only then to indulge in design… so most pieces had straight lines, although arms had slight outward curves and legs were more detailed with turned, round or cabriole designs.

    This first furniture was known as ‘Early American’ which also featured raised panels, finials, woodturnings and ornamental carvings… with common motifs being floral, crescent shapes, scrolls and leaves, but which were generally more primitive and less finished than similar English versions... a practical reason being that in the new colonies they simply did not have the same sophisticated tools and equipment that were available in the mother country.

    After the War of Independence…

    The First Industrial Revolution started in Britain during the 1760s and was followed by James Watt’s rotary steam engine in 1781, the steam locomotive in 1804 and the steamboat in 1807. These revolutionised transport and for the first time facilitated the mass and cost-effective movement of goods and people over great distances.

    It also started a new period of prosperity for the American people which created a wealthy middle class who furnished their homes lavishly with the new styles of furniture that were now being mass produced at more affordable prices… however the pieces of furniture from this later era are usually not referred to as Colonial but rather as their actual style, eg; Chippendale, Rococo, Federal, Classical Revival, etc… and for this reason there are very few images of ‘American Colonial Furniture’.

    It was more the architecture and the elegance of the interior décor that became known as Colonial, or more aptly as ‘American Colonial’… thereby clearly differentiating it from the British overseas styles which are known only as ‘Colonial’. American Colonial homes were architecturally symmetrical and usually rectangular with two or three stories under a medium pitched roof. The front door was located in the exact centre and the same number of windows were positioned perfectly on either side… while inside, the rooms were square or rectangular with polished wood floors, grand entrance halls and large living rooms… displaying the wealth and status of their owners.

    The actual interior décor depended on the era… and while earlier interiors could only be decorated with the pieces available at the time, the later eras were lavishly decorated with grand features and opulent furniture to portray the successful lifestyles of the inhabitants.


    The Arts Movement, The Shakers and Mission Furniture
    Overview and Timeline

    Overview – The Arts Movement 1860 - 1940

    Approximate Timelines...

    Arts and Crafts…

    Following the popularity of Revival style furniture, a design movement arose during the late 1850s challenging the Victorian tastes of excessive ornamentation and the quality of mass-production. This become known as the Arts and Crafts movement, and they promoted furniture with simpler lines and minimal decoration as well as a return to individual craftsmanship.

    Their cause was bolstered by the publication in 1868 of Charles Eastlake’s book promoting the idea of furniture with simpler geometric shapes and less embellishment… and in the 1890s the new Arts and Crafts style spread to Europe and the United States… and since then has retained a niche throughout the western world.

    Art Nouveau…

    During the 1880s a style called Art Nouveau emerged in Paris which sought to merge art shapes into furniture… and it introduced a more luxurious look with curvy, sinuous lines and fine polished finishes. It was popular amongst the elite but it was expensive to make and had lost favour by 1910.


    A new movement evolved in the early 1900s following the conversion of machines to electric power and the expanded range of what manufacturers could now offer.

    This was not aimed at creating any specific style as previous movements had sought to do, but as a general trend focussed on bringing functional furniture to the masses at affordable prices… and it started exploring new techniques as well as experimenting with materials other than wood for the structure of furniture, including steel, moulded plywood and flexible materials such as plastic.

    The era is generally considered to have peaked in the 1930s and ended around the 1950s (which included the Bauhaus and Art Deco periods)… and many of the designs created during that period have retained their popularity and are still being manufactured today.

    1790 – 1860 The Shakers

    The Shakers 1790 – 1860

    The Shakers were a devout religious sect in America who lived in self-sufficient communities separated from the rest of society… where they grew their own food, made their own tools and constructed their own buildings, furniture and items for everyday life.

    Their designs were simple and focussed on practicality... so their furniture used light coloured woods, with clean straight lines or subtle curves on tapered or turned legs, and seats that were either plain wood or woven with organic materials.

    Their cabinets, particularly for the times, were uniquely simple yet attractive, with recessed panel doors, mushroom shaped knobs, light finishes and basic hardware creating almost minimalist styles… and the simplicity of ‘the Shaker door’ is popular to this day, especially in kitchen and bedroom cupboard applications.

    Shaker communities declined steadily after the American Civil War ended in 1865 and there is only one Shaker settlement left today. The Shakers left behind a rich design legacy which influences mainstream design and home furnishings still today.

    1860 – 1915 Arts and Crafts

    Arts and Crafts 1860 – 1915

    By the late 1850s a design movement started gaining momentum in Britain against the extravagant styles and deteriorating quality of many manufactured goods… and it sought to recapture the spirit and quality of workmanship that had prevailed during the mid 1700s under the ‘golden age of the cabinetmaker’ and the standards of the furniture Guilds.

    This new movement challenged the tastes of the Revival and Victorian eras not only in furniture but also in design, architecture, fine art and decorative arts... which is how it became known as ‘Arts and Crafts’.

    Its leading champion was designer and social reformer William Morris who said ’Have nothing in your home you do not know is useful or believe is beautiful’… and who in 1865 introduced the first recliner which came to be known as the ‘Morris chair’ with a simple slatted wooden frame, leather upholstery and an adjustable back (extreme right below).

    This ‘Morris chair’ with its ultra-simple lines was introduced at a time when Rococo Revival and other ultra-fancy Victorian styles were all the rage… but the introduction of a completely new style in such stark contrast to the trends of the era promoted the Arts and Crafts ethos and inspired other craftsmen to follow his lead, significantly increasing the exposure of the new style to the masses.

    So, what was different?

    • It was to ignore frivolous and unnecessary embellishment and to simplify design by establishing a core link between ‘function’ (what it’ll be used for) and ‘form’ (what it should look like).

    • Following this principle, most items were designed around clean, simple, rectilinear lines with minimal decoration… allowing the natural beauty of the wood and the minimally crafted details to become a seamlessly integral part of the whole design.

    • The actual construction was often exposed… with legs that were straight, feet that were non-existent or small, and stylised motifs with flat, organic shapes and patterns.

    Despite their simplicity, the designs were considered stylish and attracted a growing following… which was bolstered by the release of Charles Eastlake’s book in 1868 promoting the idea of furniture with simpler geometric shapes and less embellishment.

    However, what was unique with the Arts and Crafts style is that it spread to Europe and the United States in the 1890s (often erroneously confused there as having similar styling to Shaker and Mission furniture)… and since then has retained a niche throughout the western world, including during these modern times, not however by replacing a previous style but by adding an entirely new style.

    Because of its longevity and broadly based appeal, further examples of cabinets, occasional pieces and bedside pedestals are shown below.

    1880 – 1910 Art Nouveau

    Art Nouveau 1880 – 1910

    Art Nouveau is French for 'new art' and it emerged in Paris during the late 1800s shortly after the Arts & Crafts movement became entrenched… but it was much more luxurious and decorative and had fine polished finishes. And whereas the Arts and Crafts styles were simplistic and rectilinear, Art Nouveau profiles were rounded with curvy, sinuous lines that often snaked around shapes in organic, stylish ways.

    Common features included stylized leaves, flowers and other organic forms, sometimes with eye-catching decorative materials such as semi-precious stones, stained glass, reflective shells and gold leaf… and whilst most items were symmetrical, many case pieces such as cabinets and beds were distinctively asymmetrical, either in their case or in their decoration.

    Art Nouveau furniture was highly admired for its exquisite designs and craftsmanship… not only because of the luxurious woods and curvaceous structures that were used… but because the finer detail and intricate curves required a great deal of skill and had to be individually handcrafted, making the pieces expensive.

    The result was a style most people admired but couldn't afford… and whilst it became popular amongst the elite, it never superseded other furniture styles because of the limited market it created for itself (think, individually commissioned fine artworks compared with mass produced versions at a fraction of the price).

    Because of these limitations, Art Nouveau had lost favour by 1910 so it was a relatively short-lived style… but it proved very influential in showing how art could be merged with and become an integral part of furniture.

    1890 – 1930 Mission Furniture

    Mission Furniture 1890 – 1930

    The Revival era, also known as the Victorian era, started in 1830 and produced nearly sixty years of heavy designs with excessive ornamentation… continuing until around 1890 when it was overtaken by the Eastlake and the Arts and Craft movements, both rejecting mechanized processes in favour of handmade pieces with simpler designs and better quality.

    ‘Mission’ furniture was another artisanal style that evolved during the late 1890s… and was in many respects a continuation of the Shaker style, incorporating similar minimalist designs but using vertical slats instead of the round bars that had been favoured by the Shakers.

    It was popular as ‘authentic wooden furniture’ until the 1930s as an alternate to the mass-produced modern designs that were evolving with steel, moulded plywood and flexible materials such as plastic… and it experienced a renaissance during the 1980s and is still a niche style today.

    The ethos behind Mission style furniture was simplicity of design, integrity of construction and truth to materials... with joints often exposed as design features.

    It was traditionally made with light coloured woods and finishes to emphasize the natural characteristics of the wood and to accentuate its grain… and despite the simplicity of its flat panels and vertical slats it still portrays a clean sturdy elegance.

    Modern, The Twentieth Century and Today
    Main Styles
    Overview and Timeline

    Overview – Modernism 1950 - 2020

    Approximate Timelines...


    The late 1800s heralded not only the Second Industrial Revolution, which initiated a vast range of electrified products, but also a Social Revolution rejecting previous traditions and re-questioning values across a wide spectrum of fields. New thinking and applications in the arts, science, industry and politics created a spirit that would later become known as Modernism… aimed at creating an ‘ideal world’ in all areas of human endeavor.

    But the initial euphoria was not to last and brought disillusionment after the First World War, the great depression, the rise of Fascism and Nazism, and finally the horrors of the Second World War… and the ideals of Modernism had all but dissipated by mid-century.

    Modern Furniture...

    For more than 400 years, from the mid 1400s to the late 1800s, furniture was elaborate and ornate yet not necessarily functional… and was also made exclusively out of wood.

    With the Second Industrial Revolution, and in keeping the new spirit of Modernism, new techniques and materials such as steel, bendable plywood and plastics gave rise to a completely new style which became known as ‘Modern’ furniture.

    The Bauhaus…

    ‘The Bauhaus’ was an experimental school founded in Germany in 1919 that became famous for its approach to design, and it operated until 1933.

    Its vision was to bridge the gap between art and industry with an overriding emphasis on modern design. It specifically sought to revolutionise the way designers conceptualized their work by using function or purpose as the starting point for their designs… and they produced an exciting array of new designs, many of which have become sought-after items that are still being manufactured today.

    Art Deco…

    Art Deco began in Paris in the 1920s as an avant-garde style portraying extreme modernity combined with elegance, glamour and functionality... a fitting style for the ’roaring twenties’.

    It’s easily recognizable for its crisp geometric shapes, controlled curves and high gloss lacquer finishes… but it was expensive compared to other simpler styles of mass-produced furniture, and was more of a niche market appealing to the wealthier design and fashion orientated customers. It started declining in popularity during the late 1930s and eventually the style was ended by the austerities of World War II.

    1900 – 2020 Modern

    Modern 1900 – 2020

    The mid 1400s to the late 1800s…

    For more than 400 years, from the mid 1400s to the late 1800s, furniture was elaborate and ornate yet not necessarily functional… with pieces often regarded as expensive decorative items for the wealthy and upper middle class, much as an expensive artwork would have been regarded.

    This started shifting during the late 1800s, driven by the Arts and Crafts movement which had introduced simpler styles with linear shapes and minimal ornamentation... but these were still made exclusively out of wood.

    The 2nd Industrial Revolution and the rise of Modernism…

    The last two decades of the 1800s heralded the Second Industrial Revolution… which brought the world the telephone, the motor vehicle and electricity.

    It also initiated a vast range of consumer benefits and electrified products, bringing to reality during the early 1900s what would have been science fiction only decades earlier… the electric vacuum cleaner, refrigerator, toaster, washing machine, dryer, radio, fan, stove, dishwasher, sewing machine, and more… and these allowed many household functions to be done more efficiently and with a fraction of the human effort previously required.

    It was also accompanied by a Social Revolution re-questioning human values including religious, political and social views… and a renewed interest in art, philosophy and culture… on a scale not encountered since the original Renaissance nearly 500 years earlier. This Revolution, which is now known as ‘Modernism’, rejected most previous traditions and sought ‘newer, smarter thinking, techniques and processes’ as the way to create a better world for human life and society.

    Modern Furniture…

    Modernism in furniture began just before the start of the 1900s… after steam power was phased out and electric motors were built into machines and semi-portable devices such as hand drills… thereby expanding the range of what manufacturers could produce. Designers embraced the new techniques and started experimenting with materials other than wood for the structure of furniture… including steel, moulded plywood and other flexible materials such as plastic.

    Gone were the days of furniture having to be wood… forever!

    Modernism, as a cultural movement, is generally considered to have peaked in the 1930s and ended around the 1950s… but ‘modern furniture’ had established itself as the firm new trend and has continued as a style, both as individual pieces and in room settings, to the present day… with many home owners choosing it above other styles for its practicality, durability, usefulness and style.

    A new era had arrived and everything about it was new… shapes, textures, colours as well as new ways of thinking about furniture and how it could be mass-produced affordably for the masses. The style of this furniture is referred to as ‘modern’… although its evolution was a direct result of the rise of ‘modernism’, the movement that had also embraced the arts, religion, politics and culture.

    The result was a completely new range of styles where the new focus was on form and function... and ornamentation such as carvings was non-existent. Instead, it was the designer’s combining of shapes, textures and profiles as integral parts of the whole that provided both the practicality and the visual appeal.

    It should not be thought, however, that the last century produced only modern furniture. There was still, and probably will always be, niche demands for historical styles such as Medieval, Rococo, Neoclassical, European Period, etc… but modern furniture certainly added a stylish and affordable new option, which first expanded the market… and then captured a large percentage of it.

    Tastes do change over the years, but 'modern furniture design' has stood the test of time… because even many designs created prior to the Second World War are still being sold and manufactured today, nearly a hundred years later.

    1920 – 1933 Bauhaus

    Bauhaus 1920 – 1933

    ‘The Bauhaus’ was an experimental school that became famous for its approach to design. It was founded in Germany in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius (bottom left image) shortly after the end of the First World War… and operated until 1933.

    Its vision was to bridge the gap between art and industry by combining disciplines such as architecture, furniture, crafts and fine arts… with an overriding emphasis on modern design where function and form merged seamlessly with the whole. It specifically sought to revolutionise the way designers conceptualized their work… by using function or purpose as the starting point for their designs.

    This meant not seeking historical inspiration but instead to design distinctive products based on practicality, modern simplicity, economic sensibility and suitable for mass production… and this was achieved by imagining entirely new uses for existing materials using the Bauhaus ‘less is more’  philosophy.

    An example of this was Marcel Breuer's Wassily Chair (top right image). In 1925 he bought his first bicycle and had an ’aha!’ moment while admiring its curved handlebars… ‘if lightweight, durable steel could bend to make a mass-produced bicycle it could certainly bend to fashion furniture’.

    But what was the importance of the Bauhaus school and the furniture they created?

    • They introduced new dimensions into furniture design with styles that were completely different by using technology and materials in new ways… and they exposed both the industry and the public to new concepts in both design and production possibilities.

    • The proof that the market responded positively to their ideas is that many designs have become sought-after items that are still being manufactured today… including the iconic Wassily chair which is believed to be the first tubular steel chair ever made.

    Bauhaus and Art Deco styles ran concurrently during roughly the same period, but in two completely different directions… Art Deco using mainly wood with geometric shapes and controlled curves, while Bauhaus focussed on simplicity and practicality with no design or fabrication limitations.

    1920 – 1940 Art Deco

    Art Deco 1920 – 1940

    Art Deco began in Paris in the 1920s as an avant-garde style portraying extreme modernity combined with elegance, glamour and functionality.

    Instead of looking to the past for inspiration, the Art Deco design philosophy was to celebrate the modern life of the 1920s with all its luxury and sophistication… and this was evident in the choice of rich materials and progressive experimental designs.

    It’s easily recognizable for its crisp geometric shapes, controlled curves, high gloss finishes, integrating veneered patterns like chevrons, triangles and circles into different woods… and the occasional introduction of new materials such as aluminium, stainless steel, chrome, ivory and mother of pearl.

    It was expensive compared to other simpler styles of mass-produced furniture which had become popular during the Modernist era of the early 1900s… and was more of a niche market appealing to the wealthier design and fashion orientated customers, connoisseurs and collectors.

    Art Deco started declining in popularity during the late 1930s and eventually the style was ended by the austerities of World War II.

    1950 – 1970 Mid-Century Modern

    Mid-Century Modern 1950 – 1970

    Mid-Century Modern is an American term describing a style that became popular after the Second World War, especially during the 1950s and 1960s.

    It experienced a rebirth during the late 1980s and has maintained a niche popularity ever since… one reason perhaps being that the designs were conceived for smaller post-war homes and therefore had to be smaller and lightweight for city residents who moved frequently… and all this applies to our current way of urban living and apartments which are becoming smaller and smaller.

    The designs extended much of the pre-war modern styling with their clean, crisp lines and minimal ornamentation… but they also introduced new materials discovered during the war, especially fiberglass, foam, aluminium and plastic laminates, all of which were pliable and could be bent into the shapes required for furniture.

    The essence of Mid-Century Modern was ‘reimagining older traditional pieces’ to create looks that were slightly futuristic but not a total departure from the past… and many of these designs are today referred to as ‘Retro’, although Retro has a light-hearted, fun connotation whereas Mid-Century Modern was a definite serious functional style.

    Geometrics were strong… and wood, which was absent from many Modern designs, became the dominant texture… but with thinner profiles and often as skinny, splayed ‘peg’ legs to dressers, tables and seating. Cold surfaces such as steel, chrome, aluminium and marble were almost non-existent… and where they were used, it was as an understatement and not as a principal material.

    1950 – 1980 Retro

    Retro 1950 – 1980

    ‘Retro’ is not old… instead, it’s something made now... but based on an old style.

    It strictly refers to a style that aesthetically belonged to an earlier period, but which has become acceptable to be used again today… its current attraction either being nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, or as a quirky complement to a larger setting, or even to be deliberately kitsch.

    As regards furniture, it describes mainly pieces that would, in their original eras, be Mid-Century Modern or part of the later pop-art culture… but which have been redesigned to accentuate and embellish their original features or to create colourful, light-hearted and fun versions of them.

    As regards interior design, it incorporates an eclectic mix of ‘yesterday’ designs with the 1950s, 60s and 70s being the most common… often with a kaleidoscope of complementing yet contrasting shapes, architectural elements and vivid accent colours… frequently including an unusual quirky item or two, such as an outrageous crystal chandelier, wall finish or dominant piece of art.


    1970 – 1990 Post Modern

    Post Modern 1970 – 1990

    Post Modern started appearing during the 1960s… although its heyday spanned the two decades from about 1970 to 1990.

    It was a movement where stifled designers started rejecting the minimalist shapes of modern design and embracing a new, albeit niche, area of unconventional ideas with an emphasis on playful, artsy and extravagant pieces.

    It was a period of furniture designs gone mad, an almost an ‘anything goes’ school of thought… and was based on colourful, light hearted and irreverent attitudes with exaggerated forms… and with each item becoming its own style statement.

    But the designs were mostly individually made for wealthy clients and corporate applications and were not sustainable by the mass market. It was a relatively short lived style that ‘appeared’… and then was gone!

    1980 – 2020 Popular and Trending

    Popular and Trending 1980 - 2020

    In 476 CE the last Roman emperor fell. Western Europe lost the order the Roman structures had brought and was plunged into almost a thousand years of deprivation and stagnation… where life was brutal and short with the average human living only into their thirties… and the limited furniture that people owned had to be functional and portable as they were frequently on the move.

    The Renaissance in the 1400s brought a more settled environment and the beginnings of furniture for ordinary people… but it was crude, bulky and uncomfortable, created purely for life’s most basic necessities. Over the next 400 years, from the mid 1400s to the late 1800s, furniture evolved through many phases of elaborateness with many eras lasting up to half a century.

    Following the Second Industrial Revolution and the electrification of machinery during the late 1990s, the speed of change in styles and designs accelerated, especially after the Second World War. And then everything changed...

    Furniture costs started to fall following the introduction of shipping containers which opened up world-wide export markets, developments in plastics saw it being used increasingly in innovative furniture design, computers merged with machines to create fully automated production processes… and flat-packing further reduced not only transport costs but also the costs of final assembly.

    And these lower prices created larger markets resulting in increased production and better economies of scale. It was the start of a new, unimagined era… that was to bring the world the greatest diversity of furniture designs and styles it had ever seen… and this is how it happened…


    Coexisting and Parallel Styles


    Transitional - The Start…

    ‘Transitional’ is a theme which began during the late 1950s and early 1960s… and has coexisted harmoniously alongside all other styles until today.

    • ‘It’s the blending of older style or traditional interiors… with modern or contemporary elements!
    But it’s not quite 'anything goes!' There are several criteria that have to be met… the design must have an uncluttered spatial look, the colours must be neutrals to instil a mood of serenity… and the styles must complement each other without individual pieces jarring the overall look, which if they did, would create another style entirely, such as eclectic or bohemian or just plain kitsch!

    ‘Transitional’ encompasses not only the furniture and furnishings but the entire setting, including all the architectural elements of the room… ie; the wall finishes, the ceilings, the flooring, the windows and any ‘built-ins’ such as alcoves, wall niches, window seats and of course fireplaces.

    Creating a Transitional setting doesn’t necessarily mean a complete refurbishment. Often it’s only a few items that need to be changed, and usually the ‘movables’… eg; replacing old fashioned couches with streamlined sofas or adding some modern accent pieces, while retaining the architectural items like wooden floors, cottage pane windows, old ceilings and fireplaces… think of the architecture of the room as a ‘display dummy’ in a clothing store… and the furniture as the clothes the store displays and rotates on the dummy.

    But what do Transitional settings really look like?... Think calmness and elegance… with mainly neutral colours… a thoughtful mix of contemporary, modern and even antique furnishings… and some understated focal points...

    At first glance, some Classical themes might be confused with ‘Transitional’ as both reflect soft relaxing moods and muted colours.

    The way to isolate the two styles is to understand that Transitional lives ‘now’ but Classical lives in the ’past’… and will usually include some ancient architecture like fluted columns, mouldings, friezes or sculptured vegetal references, and the furniture will be elegant with a complete absence of anything modern.

    Transitional – Second Generation…

    As more homes adopted Transitional themes it became an accepted and even sought-after style… and with the range and variety of furniture available for the mass market growing significantly, ‘Transitional’ morphed into a style where any blending of eras was acceptable… ignoring the previous requirement of blending only ‘Older or Traditional’ with ‘Modern or Contemporary’ (above bullet).

    • ‘Transitional’ now included ’any timeless interior that was neither completely old nor completely new’.
    However, all the other previous parameters still applied… such as styles needing to compliment each other, an uncluttered spatial look, soft neutral colour schemes and clean uncomplicated lines… as well as some updated ones… a luxurious, comfortable and relaxed environment, quiet understatement, simple furniture with lines that were either straight or curved, and a look that was timeless and adaptable to outlast temporary fads or trends.

    It also meant that Transitional could now be either ‘traditional architecture with modern furniture’… or ‘modern architecture with traditional furniture’.

    These expanded parameters were widely embraced, and the style has retained its popularity to this day… also becoming trendy amongst the millennial generation who want their own signature to express their individuality, and not to have what their parents had.


    Because Transitional is the blending of two styles, it’s the blend that creates the look, not the individual pieces of furniture… so ‘Transitional furniture’ as such doesn’t exist… only Transitional Rooms.




    Tastes change as the years pass and that is how styles date themselves… so, Baroque is always 1590 to 1700, Revival is always 1830 to 1890, Art Deco is always 1920 to 1940, etc.

    But not with Contemporary!

    Because Contemporary has no specific style! Rather, it’s always the style that’s popular ‘at the moment’… so over time it’ll always be fluid and changing… which means that individual pieces cannot logically be allocated a design or style.

    So, during the Revival era from 1830 to 1890, those heavy ornate designs with elaborate carvings would have been considered Contemporary during that period… but between 2000 and 2020 where we are now, contemporary furniture would generally be fluid and uncluttered, with slim profiles and clean smooth surfaces that have no carvings or ornamentation.

    ‘Contemporary’ is the style ‘that’s current at the present time’ (ie; at the time of reading)… making it a ‘relative’ style that applies to a ‘moving present’… a ‘constantly evolving’ reflection of styles in fashion ‘at any given time’.

    We’re now in 2020… and because styles seldom change overnight but rather evolve over years or even decades, it’s being used to describe styles that cover the period from the late 1990s to the present.

    So, Contemporary interiors (today) reflect simple, uncluttered spaces with neutral or organic elements, both in the architecture and in the furnishings, soft understated colours with perhaps some areas highlighted in wallpaper or a stronger colour… and furniture with clean flowing lines. Where all these criteria are not present, the style is probably Transitional and not Contemporary.

    Unlike most other styles, Contemporary can have more than one style… so a room with modern features can be ‘modern’ because it’s modern… or ‘eclectic’ because it includes conflicting pieces of furniture… yet also ‘contemporary’ because it’s in fashion now.

    Country and Cottage

    Country and Cottage

    Country Style...

    Country style is neither Traditional, Provencal, Rustic nor Farmhouse… but often includes elements from all of these. It’s understated rather than pretentious. Think of a homely, cosy lifestyle in the countryside or in a rustic village, unpretentious and almost naïve in some respects, but always neat, well laid out, and with soft muted colours… generally reflecting yesteryear’s designs but with a certain charm and elegance.

    The furniture never contains bold statement pieces and is never today’s urban fashion… but rather subtly embraces comfortable well-used pieces, often authentic and unique, meaning not every piece has to match. Curtains and upholstery are usually natural fabrics with simple designs such as stripes, checks and semi-plains, but florals are also widely used and can either be traditional or have more modern designs.

    Décor accents continue the unpretentious country look with organic items such as old wine barrels used as tables or filled with plants, antiqued farm tools such as shovels and hoes adorning the walls… and artwork inspired by rural living such as animal skeletons, country garden flowers, empty fields and animals.

    Natural materials and woods are an integral part of country living… with stone or wooden floors and ceiling beams accentuating the country style atmosphere.


    Country Style Kitchens...

    The kitchen is often an important area where the whole family gathers for meals.

    So it’s often an integral part of the relaxed country theme… usually exuding a vintage charm with raw brick or partially tiled walls, Shaker style cupboard doors, often with mismatched knobs and handles, open shelving, central islands, hanging pots and utensil displays… but it can also contain some modern elements… and so be a mix of both.

    Modern Country Style...

    As the years pass, so tastes change… and with the availability of more modern furniture, pieces have inevitably found their way into country style living… but seldom to the extent they materially change the country look.

    Instead, they add a more up-to-date and sophisticated feel… whilst still retaining classic country requirements such as plenty of wood, exposed beams, natural textures and soft neutral colours to keep the relaxed, homely simplicity.

    The furniture should still be mismatched… as one of the hallmarks of country style living is for the rooms to look as if they’ve been thrown together to work naturally… and for some pieces to appear as if they’ve been in the family for generations.

    Cottage Style...

    Insofar as Cottage Style Furnishing is concerned, a cottage is typically a small house… architecturally older-fashioned and modest, and usually located in a rural or semi-rural location.

    They are generally one story or 1½ story structures with their interiors made up of several smallish rooms… although to accommodate today’s lifestyle many have been converted into open floor plans with wider doorways and halls, making them more spacious and also wheelchair accessible. Externally, their architecture often includes a gable roof, rough plastered walls, bay windows, balconies and small porches.

    Cottage Style interiors reflect a romantic lifestyle, unbothered with the pressures of urban living, and generally look charming, comfortable and informal… much of this vibe being created by the overall décor and colour palette of the interior, rather than by the mismatched and eclectic style of furnishing.

    The furniture itself uses light coloured woods… which are often painted, or have whitewashed or weathered finishes, with clean lines and decoration that is either minimal or slightly old-fashioned. Soft furnishings play a significant role in creating the style… with coordinated fabrics in a variety of prints like florals, stripes, checks and plaids mixed together in the upholstery, curtains, table skirts and cushions.


    Farmhouse and Rustic

    Farmhouse and Rustic 9999 - 9999

    The words ‘Farmhouse’ and ’Rustic’ may initially evoke visions of basic rural living, far away from the nearest towns… of animals roaming the fields and farms with dilapidated buildings, dirt roads, windmills and makeshift rickety furniture.

    That may have been true long ago… but today farmhouse décor is warm, cosy, relaxing and full of character… rejecting the fast-paced, hectic life of urban living… and instead embracing architectural elements such as roughhewn stone walls, timber windows, wooden ceiling beams and roaring fireplaces... enticing a ‘back to nature’ romanticism of a more sedate and simpler time.

    The furniture is chunky, sturdy and masculine... yet reflects simplicity, often with vintage or retro influences. It’s usually stained in medium to dark timbers with a weathered look… with Rustic items being a little rougher and less sophisticated. Upholstery is often in natural leather, woven grasses or coarse organic fabrics.

    In today’s times few people can live without modern technology… and the original, relatively basic, farmhouse styles now also include more contemporary and sophisticated designs which have become known as ‘Modern Farmhouse’. But it doesn’t matter because the essence of Farmhouse design is eclectic, and the mixing of older with newer is perfectly acceptable… with some décor even including stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and bold lighting.

    The popularity of these styles is perhaps that they exude a sense of history, tradition and timelessness… yet still provide modern day creature comforts in an easy going, informal living environment.




    The style is called ‘Provencal’ but is frequently used interchangeably with ‘Provence’ or ‘Provincial’… and usually refers to furniture created in France during the 1700s, away from Paris, in the provinces and smaller French cities, particularly in the south of France.

    Those provincial residents had less buying power than the Parisian elite and were usually not in touch with the trends of the capital. The local craftsmen would go to Paris and become inspired by the current trends… but instead of replicating the styles they adopted only key influences, so their pieces were simpler and more affordable than the ornate Rococo furniture made for the monarchy and aristocrats.

    Also, local craftsmen each had their own techniques so some pieces were massive and ornamented while others were light and rather simple… but the common theme was sturdy construction to withstand daily use, and a focus on combining beauty and elegance with comfortable designs, rustic warmth and a country style look… by combining carvings, mouldings and decorative wrought iron with simple lines and textures.

    The main techniques of decoration were carvings of decorative motifs like flowers, mythological creatures and curved lines… and painting which was more diverse and included landscapes, mythological creatures, biblical scenes and everyday objects. For metal parts, iron was used because it was widely available and affordable… but only to complement and enhance the wooden parts.

    Provencal style was all about incorporating rural simplicity with the relaxed and cosy atmosphere of a country house… and often the furniture took on a sophisticated but slightly rustic, vintage look. Fabrics blended harmoniously with the entire design, usually simple cotton textiles with prints of flowers, trees and herbs... but occasionally were bright and bold, creating dramatic effects.

    Despite originating in France, the style has, even today, a niche popularity in many parts of the western world.


    Nautical and Coastal
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    Zen and Eastern
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    Niche Styles
    Shabby Chic

    Shabby Chic

    ‘Shabby Chic’ is a light, airy style of interior decor that projects a care-free, relaxed vibe… and incorporates Chic design with a little bit of Shabby.

    But it’s also much more than that...

    It’s an ultra-feminine style that achieves its look, first by combining a neutral colour palette with furniture that has been deliberately aged to simulate wear and tear… then, by adding a variety of different accessories… such as throw rugs, blankets, pillows, wall art and décor items to create an eclectic, cosy look that can appear so tantalising... yet so effortlessly stylish.

    The style took its name in 1989 from London designer Rachel Ashwell and was extremely popular throughout the 1990s. The ’Shabby’ part of ‘Shabby Chic’ refers to the pieces that have been distressed by applying paint techniques to give them their weathered or vintage look… but the furniture itself should be good quality and only look distressed. Essentially, it’s a balance of ‘elegant things’ with some ‘old and worn things’.


    In Progress...
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    Industrial and Steam Punk
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