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A Few Facts about Major Periods of Furniture Design

1600–1720 Mannerist: Jacobean, Early Colonial and William & Mary

William & Mary (1700–1725): Many new styles were developed in this period. Leather was frequently used for chair seats and backs. Brass nails were used for decoration. The highboy (a chest on a chest) was another important development. Oriental influences were pervasive including the use of cane for chair seats and backs. Furniture became more comfortable during this period as witnessed by the development of the couch and the upholstered wing chair.

1680–1760 Baroque: Characterized by elaborate, flamboyant decoration and expansive form, the Baroque style was fully developed by 1620 in Italy. It was an indirect influence on the William and Mary and Queen Anne styles in America and England.

Queen Anne (1725–1755): There were fewer new forms developed during this time, but many William & Mary elements were refined. The cabriole leg and the ball and claw foot were very popular as was the flame finial and the vase-shaped splats in side chairs. Block fronted chests were also popular along with shell carvings on both chairs and highboys.

1750–1790 Rococo: Chippendale

17th Century: This era of furniture design was marked by heavy furniture (usually oak). Mortise and tenon joints were frequently used in the heavy armchairs, stools and trestle tables.

1785–1820 Early Neo-Classical: Hepplewhite, Federal and Sheraton

1820–1850 Late Neo-Classical: Empire and Victorian

Eastlake Furniture: Charles Lock Eastlake (1836-1906) was an English architect who protested the elaborate and sometimes poorly constructed furniture of the Victorian period. He advocated furniture that had a simple design and an early English style. He replaced ornate carvings with chip carvings and used decorative lines. American furniture factories were quick to copy Eastlake’s simpler style.

1850–1900 Revival: Rococo and Colonial Revival

Shaker Furniture: A distinctive style developed by the Shakers in the late 18th century, shaker furniture was inspired by their ascetic beliefs and widely admired for its simplicity, innovative joinery, quality and functionality.

Gothic Revival Style – 19th Century: American Gothic style used decorations inspired by Gothic architecture and furniture of the twelfth to fourteenth century in England and other parts of Europe. These decorations still have the same names they had in the twelfth century, when they decorated church walls and windows.

1880–1920 Aesthetics Movement: Mission and Arts & Crafts

Louis XVI Revival (1860–1890): In the 1850’s, Empress Eugenie of France began to remodel the private apartments of the palaces of the Tuileries and St. Cloud. The style re-introduced a formal classicism with oval backs, arm supports and straight stiles. Delicate classical motifs with inlaid and porcelain plaques were used. Ebonized frames became popular. French fabrics were used for upholstered furniture and drapes. By the 1850’s this style became popular in the United States.

Cottage Furniture: Refers to a type of painted furniture made in the middle to late 19th Century and popularized by A.J. Downing.

The Rococo Revival Style 1845–1900: The Rococo Revival or “French Antique” style was popular in Paris and London as early as 1840. From the 1840’s through the end of the century, Rococo was the most popular furniture style in the United States. Walnut was a popular wood for inexpensive pieces of Rococo Furniture, while rosewood was reserved for the more costly pieces. The chief features of this style included the cabriole leg, shell carvings, and the delicate “S” and “C” scrolls.

Turkish Furniture 1870-1880: This style became popular in the United States during the construction of the Suez Canal when people recognized the importance of Turkey in diplomatic affairs. Primarily limited to parlor seating pieces, the style featured rectangular shaped frames covered with overstuffed upholstery. Buttons, tassels and fringe were used abundantly to give an Eastern flavor.

Regency Style: This style was named for the Prince Regent, later George IV of England. It was the English version of the Empire style, which was basically the art of copying furniture from Greek and Roman models. It was popular from the late 18th to early 19th centuries.

Wicker Furniture 1850–1920: Wicker furniture that was made in the 1800’s was quite plain, but at the turn of the century manufacturers began to add ornate styles with curlicue designs. The wicker was woven around furniture frames that were made from white oak or hickory. The Victorians readily accepted wicker for indoor as well as outdoor furnishings. Wicker furniture for children was particularly popular during the 1870’s.

1890–1920 Art Nouveau: An anti-historical European design movement that was popular between the 1890’s and early 1900’s which created an elaborate curvilinear style. In furniture design, Art Nouveau was not as popular in the United States as Art Deco. Art Deco, which became popular as early as the 1920’s, featured straight lines as well as sharp angles. Art Deco furniture was the forerunner of today’s Modern furniture.

Bent Twig, Adirondack or Rustic Furniture: Furniture of natural materials and organic form generally used as camp and garden furniture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America.

1925–1940 Art Deco:

1925–1940 Modern Style:


George Hepplewhite

George Hepplewhite was an English furniture designer whose book, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide, was published in 1788. Although Hepplewhite used inlays of rare wood, his style was less ornate than Thomas Chippendale’s. Hepplewhite stressed softening of angular designs of other styles by combining them with smooth curves.

His greatest contributions to furniture design were his chair-backs, which were in five designs: oval, wheel, heart, shield and rectangular. All of them had pierced splats done in delicate designs. He also introduced the Prince of Wales feather in his carved decorations. Hepplewhite frequently used a square tapering leg on his table designs.

Thomas Chippendale

Thomas Chippendale was born in 1719 near Otley, England. His father was a cabinetmaker and Thomas worked in the family business until he moved to London in 1748 and opened his own shop. Chippendale’s greatest contribution was his 1754 book The Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers Directory. This was the first book written in the English language that was devoted exclusively to designs of pieces of furniture. Revised editions of this book were published in 1759 and 1762. This book, which stressed fanciful designs, was used by cabinetmakers throughout Europe. Structural soundness, carved designs and glowing lines were additional characteristics of the Chippendale style.

Eventually, Chippendale’s influence spread to the American colonies, and the cabinetmakers of Philadelphia and New England produced skillful adaptations for local tastes. Many outstanding furniture designs evolved, including highboys, lowboys, and cabriole-leg chairs with pierced back splats.

Charles Eastlake

In the last half of the nineteenth century, a reform movement spread through the United States. It changed the way many people thought about styles of furniture. People had filled their homes with large pieces of carved furniture, thick upholstery, and heavy draperies.

The new simpler style began with an idea by a man who was an architect and arts writer, not a furniture maker. Charles Eastlake (1836-1906), an Englishman, published Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and other Details in 1868. This style was very influential in Britain and later the United States, where the book was published in 1872.

He thought the objects in people's homes should be attractive and well made by workers who took pride in their hand work or machine work. As the book became popular in the United States, furniture manufacturers took ideas and designs from the book and made what was named Eastlake Style furniture.

From 1866 to 1877 he was secretary to the Royal Institute of British Architects, and from 1878 to 1898 he was Keeper of the National Gallery, London.

Eastlake Style furniture is frequently seen in antique shops all over the United States, but especially in the east and midwest.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 - 1959) is considered one of the founding fathers of modern architecture. His innovative work, which spanned seven decades, influenced several generations of architects. Frank Lloyd Wright had the conception of a building as a complete creation in which the interior furnishings are in harmony with the geometry and the materials of the structure itself, which was created for and integrated into a specific geographic setting.

Wright's creative mind was not confined to architecture. He also designed furniture, fabrics, art glass, lamps, dinnerware, silver, linens and graphic arts.



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