Glossary of Furniture Styles
Adam A 19th century style often included in the larger category of
Federal. Adam style is characterized by a strong but restrained
classical influence, somewhat heavier than contemporaries
Hepplewhite and Sheraton.
American A style developed in North America in the 17th century by the early
American settlers with influences from around the world, but
Artisan Artisan style is characterized by fine but not overly ornate
workmanship that celebrates the maker's community identity or
ethnicity. In general, an artisan is a craftsperson who works by
commission, taking pride in the quality of work but working to the
commissioner's specifications in terms of creative detail.
Art Deco A style of the early 20th century that incorporated new materials
and was characterized by bold, geometric forms.
Art Nouveau Art Nouveau went against the Victorian mainstream of the time around
the turn of the 20th century. This style is characterized by
smoothly curving lines and subtle transitions through the form. It
uses organic forms as inspiration for the entire design rather than
simply the ornamentation. Typically, Art Nouveau lines begin a large
S- shaped curve that ends in a rapid, whip like tail.
Arts and Crafts The Arts and Crafts period between the 1860’s and 1939 was an answer
to the Victorian style. Rather than drawing on ornamental styles
from the past, it took on a rustic, craftsman look.
Asian A general term referring to styles of the Far East. See Chinese and
Japanese for two more specific examples of Asian style. Furniture
with Asian sensibilities is popular as a subset of contemporary
Baroque Between the 17th and early 18th century, Baroque style heavily
influenced Western Europe. It originated in Italy and was
representative of the Roman Catholic Church. Pieces are
characterized by large twisted columns, broken pediments, and heavy
moldings. The details are related to the entire piece and flow
throughout the entire work rather than simply throughout one panel.
Chinese Chinese furniture, ranging in time from the mid-1300s to the
mid-1600s, typically features fine, simple designs made of choice
hardwoods, beautifully finished, and unornamented except for careful
mouldings and important hardware made of metals such as pewter,
brass and copper. Common characteristics are unique joinery,
lacquered wood pieces and inlays of mother of pearl, marble, ivory,
Colonial A term referring to furniture styles in use in colonies around the
world during the great colonial period from the 16th to 19th
centuries. Colonial furniture is characterized by a strong "mother
country" influence balanced by the use of local materials and
adapted to local needs.
Contemporary Based on the Modern style, except this style uses classical concepts
for decoration and detail. Often furniture is made of rubber, metal,
or concrete with long low profiles.
Cottage Mass-produced furniture popular in the mid-19th century, originating
in functional demands rather than in display. Usually painted white,
pale lilac or blue and often enhanced with fruit and floral motifs
or abstract curvilinear designs. Turned legs and split backs are
Country A casual style that gained popularity in the 1980's and remains
popular today, often featuring nature and nostalgic motifs. The
appearance of handcrafting is also important. "Distressing" is
DeStijl A 20th century style originating in the Netherlands. As with other
Dutch furniture of the period, DeStijl furniture is
characteristically simple and clean-lined.
Directoire Named for the Directorate of France after the French Revolution,
Directoire style prevailed between 1793 and 1804. It is
characterized by Etruscan-appearing forms and motifs, including
mythical and stylized animal forms. Of note are mahogany dining
tables of the period, which were for the first time decorative
enough in themselves to be displayed without cloths.
Dutch Early Flemish Baroque furniture, dating from the 17th century, was
but a slight adaptation of the late Renaissance style. Typical are
oak cupboards with four doors and chairs with seats and backs of
velvet or leather held in place by nails. Most pieces are massive,
solid unpretentious pieces made of local woods with turnings. Dutch
furniture of this period can be distinguished by its simpler design
and a preference for molded panels over carved ornament. Later,
marquetry and walnut-veneer surfaces became the most common
Early American This style flourished between 1608 and 1720 in Virginia and New
England. It included unpretentious wood furniture of simple
construction with little design detail and crude copies of Jacobean,
Carolean, and William and Mary. Most pieces echoed European styles.
Early Renaissance Between 1515 and 1547, the transitional period between Gothic arts
and the classical revival. Characterized by arch form, ornament and
detail in style and decoration, high relief carving with diamond
shapes and architectural pilasters, and ornamented with olive,
laurel, and acanthus leaves. Pieces usually featured no hardware.
Elizabethan Popular during the reign of Elizabeth I of England in the latter
half of the 16th century, Elizabethan furniture is massive and often
heavily carved. The style regained popularity in the early 19th
English The period distinctions of English furniture are somewhat indefinite
owing to the variety of labels according to monarchs, designers,
typical woods, external influences, etc. Changes were happening so
rapidly that primarily the type of wood used distinguished the
boundaries of the English style. Classified by the separation of the
ages of oak, walnut, mahogany, and satinwood.
European Sophisticated style with great attention to detail and
Federal This was the American’s reaction to the Neo-classic style during the
late 18th century. Federal is more geometric and is lighter and more
delicate than preceding styles. Details include fine inlay and
refined turnings. Chair backs are either square cornered or curved.
Finnish Finnish furniture designers used bent and laminated (layers of solid
wood) woods to create organic, humanistic forms and lightweight open
shapes. These designers were also the first to experiment with
tubular steel in furniture design.
French Though this style ranged in time from about 1100 to 1500, until 1400
French furniture was indistinct from the Gothic style of Northern
Europe - ecclesiastical. The nomadic lifestyle established the need
for chests, coffers, and benches. Prominent pieces were those that
served dual purposes and were easy to travel with. Originally based
on the Italian Renaissance, the French furniture of the 16th Century
was very detailed and graceful with inlay marquetry of ivory, mother
of pearl, and various colors of wood.
Georgian A period from about 1714 to 1790 that reflects the British
interpretation of Palladianism (early), the Rococo (mid) and
Gothic The style period between 12th and 16th century is known as Gothic.
This style derived from Roman architecture and was seen in France by
the middle of the 12th century. It is characterized by the use of
highly decorative panels and the use of indigenous woods. It was
revived in England around 1740 and known as “Gothick." North
Americans began to make their own versions in the mid 1800’s.
Greek From 9th century B.C. with Egyptian roots. Characterized by use of
bronze animal legs, gilding and encrusted jewels and stones. Used
native woods such as olive, yew, and cedar. It features sweeping
curves on legs and backs, and centers on couches, chairs, stools,
tables, chests, and boxes. Usually not highly decorated.
Hepplewhite (See also Federal) George Hepplewhite, author of the posthumously
published The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide (1788), stated
his goal as “to unite elegance and utility." Hepplewhite style is
conservative, retaining design elements from earlier periods such as
the cabriole leg, but tended to have a lighter appearance than the
Adam style, its contemporary.
Italian Renaissance Characteristics of this 15th century style include simple outlines
and details such as architectural profiles with classic mouldings,
ornamentation of acanthus, Rinceau, and animal forms.
Jacobean This style, popular between 1603 and 1649, is the earliest work from
the Americas. It is also referred to as Pilgrim furniture. It is
characterized by heavy turnings used as legs and spindles. At times,
turned legs are split in half and applied to panels for decoration.
Oak or pine is common and the ornamentation is sometimes painted.
Japanese Japanese domestic usage required little furniture. The chief
requirement for the few forms that were developed was that they be
easily movable. Chests and cupboards were built in with sliding
doors. Usually finished with highly polished lacquer flecked with
gold and decorated with fine-scaled flower, animal, and landscape
motives. Thin mats made of rice straw called tatami covered the
floors and were used for sitting. Cloth cushions were also used, as
were small tables of wood or lacquer, either folding or rigid.
Dressing tables and writing tables were specialized forms that
evolved from the simple table. The folding screen was an
indispensable adjunct to the other furnishings as it could be moved
to change the entire aspect of the room. Japanese furniture forms
have changed little for centuries.
Late Renaissance Features 17th century Italian classic ornamentations of columns,
pilasters, and geometric shapes. Traces of Gothic influences are
present. The beauty of line and mass appear more important than
Louis XV The period from 1715 to 1774, also known as the Regency, marked a
shift from the weighty character of earlier rococo styles to embrace
a more light-hearted, somewhat simpler feel. Carvings and marquetry
were simplified and contributed more to the overall motif of the
piece than in the prior period.
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