The period when England developed its own national style of furniture, inspired by Renaissance ideals of proportion and ornamentation.
Key features: Little upholstery, wood favoured (particularly oak); heavy, turned shapes, often bulbous like Flemish and Netherlands styles; lacking the balanced proportion of Italian Renaissance furniture; exuberant and rich carving; glass becoming less expensive, often used in tessellated diamond patterns.
Furniture of this period is essentially a continuation of Elizabethan style, though with greater attention to detail, and better balance of proportion. The primary figure of this period is the architect Inigo Jones, who studied in Italy before returning home to England. Jones brought with him designs and inspiration from the great Italian architect Palladio, effectively introducing the Palladian canon of design to England.
A quote from Mr J Stephens, esq:
"Really plain, boring, uncomfortable furniture.
That's why we shouldn't be a Republic."
(Charles II and James II)
The return of Charles II from exile in France brought a stronger French influence over English furniture design. The Carolean and Restoration periods are particularly famous for wood carving. A good example is Grinling Gibbons, who produced strong, yet airy and delicate carved furniture.
Key features: wood panelling and ornamental plaster work was increasingly used, as were upholstery, gilding and gesso; marquetry increasingly popular, brass beginning to be favoured material for handles, etc.
William and Mary: 1689-1702
During this period Dutch and French design were the strongest influences, due to close commercial ties and the migration of skilled craftsmen to England, particularly refugee Hugenots.
Key features: gilding, upholstery in fine silks, marquetry, lacquer and boulle; generally a pronounced tendency towards curvilinear structures such as bun feet, serpentine shapes, and (from 1700) spooned chair uprights designed to fit a person's back.
Queen Anne: 1702-1714
Considered the "era of elegance" for many, and a Golden Age of cabinet work. There was a great interest in art and architecture, particularly since The Grand Tour was expected after completing formal education. Also greater importation of French furniture to England.
Key features: a return to style introduced by Inigo Jones, but with greater understanding of the principles behind design; walnut the favoured wood, which halted the use of marquetry and parquetry though crossbanding was used; overall much more delicate and elegant.
Early Georgian: 1714-1727
A continuation of the Queen Anne style, though the vogue for all things Palladian increased. The Baroque style of William Kent ran concurrently, with extravagant curvaceous designs, gilded and richly adorned in fine upholstery.
Key features: classic ornament such as egg-and-dart moulding, pilaster framing, often used around doors and bookcases, capitals, cornices and carved acanthus leaves; mahogany overtook walnut as the favoured material.
Mid Georgian: 1727-1760
Thomas Chippendale: c.1718-1779
Chippendale was one of the most influential figures in English furniture design, and his book 'Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director' was, and still is, an important record of 18th century furniture design. The third edition of 'The Director' contained over two hundred engraved plates, with the majority of the designs done in the French Rococo, the Chinese or the Gothic taste.
The popular conception of Hepplewhite style comes from the book of designs entitled 'The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Guide' and composed of almost three hundred designs. Many of the designs echoed the style of Adam and of Louis XVI, and much of Hepplewhite's furniture was designed to sit in an Adam interior. Hepplewhite's designs were light with elegant simplicity and excellent proportions. Particular stylistic features include curving lines, slender tapering leg or cabriole leg, detailed chair backs and varying use of woods.
Late Georgian: 1760-1820
The Adam brothers - Robert and James Adam - were noteworthy figures in the Neo-Classical revival, and Robert Adam became so well-known for his designs that he was virtually the creator of a new classic style now known as 'Adam'. This style encompassed everything from architectural detail to colour-schemes to furniture, and much of the furniture was made by Chippendale, Hepplewhite and their contemporaries.
Thomas Sheraton 1751-1806
One of the great names of English cabinetmaking, Sheraton published several books on making, upholstering and finishing furniture. The Sheraton style refers less to the man himself, and more to the style that has come to be known by that name. The style is a combination of the French Directoire moving towards the French Empire. His work is famous for graceful delicacy, lightness and finished detail with a fine sense of proportion.
This style roughly corresponds to the French period of the same name, which had great influence in England.
During this period, England was undergoing its second phase of the Classical Revival, where furniture design took inspiration from the marble remains of Ancient Greece and Rome.
Key features: refined simplicity with an emphasis on Greek severity; plain forms favoured, and even more elaborate decoration was treated with more restraint than previously; mahogany the favoured wood, with ebony, satinwood and metals used for contrasting inlay; carving used, but sparingly, and was often painted to emulate ormolu; popular motifs included lion masks, caryatids, dolphins, lyres, stars, rosettes and acanthus foliage.
Late Regency: 1820-1830 & William IV: 1830-1837
The Late Regency was in essence a continuation of the Regency style, though there was a revived interest in a romanticized version of Gothic style, known familiarly as "Gothic Castle".
Key features: tracery, arches, ornamental figures; medieval-inspired styles made in popular modern woods such as mahogany and rosewood; though lacking the fine balance and inherent symbolism of true Gothic and Medieval design.
The early Victorian era is important for English furniture design as the Industrial Revolution fundamentally changed furniture manufacture, producing the beginning of mass-production. A focus on manufacture left little room for inventiveness in terms of furniture design, and consequently Victorian style is generally characterized by "nostalgic historicism" - romanticized revivals of medieval and renaissance art and architecture.
Particular 'themes' at the time include:
Modern English Gothic
Post and lintel construction with copious tracery.
Plain furniture designed to be painted on. Produced around the boom of Impressionism.
A vogue for all things Japanese, which lead into exploration of Turkish, Persian, Egyptian, Indian and Moorish art.
Arts and Crafts
A powerful worldwide movement, lead by England, towards rejuvenating the arts of the cabinetmakers. It runs parallel to the Art Nouveau movement on the Continent.
A modern and international style, characterized by honesty, fitness of purpose and contemporary expression. Utilitarian designs embraced new materials such as glass, concrete and steel. Lead into Art Deco/Art Moderne.
Renaissance: to 1643
Adherence to Classical canons of proportion and style, specifically the 5 Orders: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan and Composite. Each Order propounds set rules for proportion and decoration. In France the styles of this period overlap, and are often referred to as Francois I and Henri II.
Key features: Balanced and harmonious composition; use of Classical motifs such as acanthus leaves, caryatids, swags, masks, grotesques and scrolls. Overall, an elegant and restrained style.
Louis XIII: 1610-1643
The Louis XIII period essentially covers the first half of the 17th century, beginning at the foundation of the Bourbon dynasty. The Bourbons greatly encouraged the arts, and developed a state organized plan to foster new talent. Consequently, France became a centre of great artistic activity, with a range of influences (Italian, Spanish and Flemish).
Key features: exaggerated in detail, with vigorous, carved ornament; carving, turning, inlay, painting and gilding; increased use of soft furnishings for decoration.
Louis XIV: 1643-1715
The Sun King's reign was an era of opulence and a cultural Golden Age for France. Furniture and design moved from being a collection of prevailing fashions, collected from Flemish, Italian and Spanish sources, to a unified national style. Continuing the programme of state patronage of the arts, Louis XIV set up galleries and workshops in and around the Louvre for artists and cabinetmakers with established reputations.
Key features: opulence, symmetry of composition and elegance of carving; rich upholstery in imported textiles, and tapestries beginning to be used; influence of Chinese art beginning to show (imported textiles, pottery etc); variety of woods and metals used for detail; primary woods used included ebony, walnut, oak, beech and various fruitwoods; some woods were often tinted by hand to obtain a precise tone for marquetry work; coloured marbles used for commode tops and the like.
A transitional period, where the Louis XIV principles were being modified and the Louis XV principles were being developed. The style retained the rich elegance of Louis XIV, but traded heroic, stately subject matter for more romantic themes and graceful subtleness. During this time that the Rocaille (Rococo) style was adopted and modified from its Italian counterpart - a lighter, asymmetrical alternative to the Louis XIV style.
Key features: elongated shapes (such as the acanthus leaf); development of ormoulu, and greater use of redder-toned woods to show ormolu to its best advantage; less use of ebony; use of small figures in designs, influenced by Oriental designs and Classical mythology; especially prevalent was the shell motif - particularly the upright shell with acanthus leafage starting from both sides from the base of the shell.
Louis XV: 1723-1774
The Rocaille style came into its own. Comfort and luxury dominated furniture design, with excessive use of sinuous curves in carving guided by the principle of asymmetry. More rustic, less ornate furniture was also made for the fashionable retreats for the aristocracy - this style was often copied by the growing middle class, and lead to the development of the Provincial style.
Key features: Fine proportions, graceful curving lines; straight leg was superseded by the cabriole leg; veneering and marquetry were popular - required greater skill to do this due to curved furniture surfaces; rich upholstery with pure silks and damasks; popular woods include oak, walnut, beech, elm and wild cherry.
Louis XVI: 1774-1793
A revival in Neo-Classicism, but with stricter attention to the art of Rome and Greece than earlier periods which relied on Renaissance interpretations of antiquities.
Key features: refined simplicity, ornamental but graceful and delicate; lighter colours favoured for decoration and upholstery; less bold in comparison to the Baroque Louis XIV and Rococo Louis XV; predominantly rectilinear, but circle, ellipse and oval shapes were often used; panelling with plain borders; mahogany often used.
The Directoire period takes its name from the Directory or Directorate, the Republican ruling body established by the National Convention towards the end of the French Revolution. The style lasted longer than the Directory itself, and the design of Directoire furniture was essentially a transitional style, like the earlier Regence period. The ideal of the artist was to capture the true spirit of Ancient Greece and Rome, particularly as Republican Rome was the inspiration for many Revolutionary leaders, philosophers and artists.
Key features: symbols of the Revolution permeated all design - the cap of Liberty, the oak, clasped hands, and the Tricolor were all used in cabinetmaking; refined and graceful simplicity, in established simple forms.
Napoleon overthrew the Directory, formed the first Consulate and appointed himself first Consul. The style of Consulate era furniture is essentially that of the Directoire, though at the later stages of its development into the Empire style.
Key features: less use of Revolutionary symbols in favour of Classical Greek motifs such as chimeras, lions, dolphins and winged figures of Victory; more ambitious pieces of cabinetwork were produced.
Named for the period of the First Empire (1804-1814), the Empire style was largely created by Napoleon's architects, Fontaine and Percier. Both architects were fervent admirers of Classical art and architecture. Consequently their designs imitated the antiquities acknowledged the needs of a more complex lifestyle, and blended them with an imperial grandeur, which was characteristic of the Napoleonic era.
Key features: severe forms, simple and rigid lines, clear-cut silhouettes; curved lines restricted to sofas and chairs; little moldings, though smooth round columns with bronze base and capital often appeared on commodes; cabinetwork was block-like; mahogany favoured, often highly polished and veneered; symmetry; sometimes chairs painted in a light colour with detail picked out in gilt; brass mounts and ormolu was extremely popular; eagles, sphinxes, winged lions and swans were popular motifs; Egyptian motifs also became more popular after Napoleon's successes in Egypt.
When the Bourbons regained power in France, the Industrial Revolution was beginning to take hold in France. By the mid-19th century factory-made furniture could be made more cheaply than handmade furniture, and consequently the workshops making handmade furniture began to close. Consequently, the variety of change and inventiveness characteristic of earlier periods stagnates.
The Empire style essentially continued.
Charles X: 1824-1830
During Charles X's reign there was a Gothic revival, but furniture design and style largely retained the characteristics of the Empire style.
Louis Philippe: 1830-1848
In the early years of Louis Philippe's reign furniture followed the Empire style. Subsequently there was a series of revivals of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque Louis XIV styles.
Key features: lack of innovation, but fine materials and good workmanship; dark coloured woods were favoured; elaborate brass mounts.
Napoleon III: 1848-1870
This period continued the stylistic patchwork of various sources, and while often ostentatious and lacking the balance of previous eras, the furniture did display fine workmanship.
Key features: collection of styles (Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance and Classical); velvets and printed cottons were favoured; wallpaper also used.
Third Republic: 1871-1940
French furniture design during this period was essentially a continuation of the Louis Philippe and Napoleon III eras, though at the turn of the century the Art Nouveau movement took off.
'Le Style Moderne' (later known as Art Nouveau) propounded a return to arts and crafts in rebellion against mass-manufacture of furniture. The principle exponent of the style was William Morris, who wrote:
"Our art is the work of a small minority composed of educated persons, fully of their aim of producing beauty and distinguished from the great body of workmen by the possession of that aim."
Key features: flowing, sinuous lines; free, organic forms with uncluttered composition; realistic floral motifs; all-encompassing - art, furniture, architecture, clothing and jewellery - which brought art and everyday life together; honest use of materials. A classic example is Hector Guimard's Metro entrances.