Glossary of Furniture Styles
Early Middle Ages: With the collapse of the
Roman Empire during the 4th-5th centuries, Europe sank into a period
in which little furniture, except the most basic, was used: chairs,
stools, benches, and primitive chests were the most common items.
There is evidence that certain ancient traditions of furniture
making, particularly that of turnery, influenced early medieval
craftsmen. Turnery was used in making chairs, stools, and couches in
Byzantium, and it seems that this technique was known across Europe
as far north as Scandinavia. Later Middle Ages (14th and 15th
centuries): Folding chairs and stools, trestle tables with removable
tops, and beds with collapsible frameworks were usual. The religious
houses were an exception to this in that they enjoyed a certain
security denied to the outside world. Much of the best furniture of
this period was therefore made for use in churches and monasteries,
and many of the ideas and developments that were later to add to the
domestic comfort of Europe originated in the cloister. Household
furnishings were frequently crude in design and roughly constructed.
Other forms of carved decoration on furniture became more common
during the 15th century, when surfaces were carved with tracery and
other Gothic motifs. During the Middle Ages a great many pieces of
furniture, including those with carved decoration, were painted and
sometimes gilded, a practice that continued well into the
Renaissance. The chest was the basic type of medieval furniture,
serving as cupboard, trunk, seat, and, if necessary, as a simple
form of table and desk.
Middle Renaissance Ranging in time from 1550 to 1610, Middle Renaissance furniture was
characterized by broken pediments, colonnettes, pilasters, flat
strapwork, and cartouche ornamentation. Stars and diamonds were used
in bold relief.
Mission The Mission style, from the early 20th century but enjoying a
resurgence today, is inspired by the mission furniture of the
Southwest that was made of rough-sawn lumber and pegs and dowels. It
is a very popular offshoot of the Arts and Crafts period. The style
is characterized by simple, functional designs made of oak and
stained wood with minimal ornamentation. Leather and Native American
designs are often the motif of the coverings.
Modern An early-to-mid 20th century style, Modernism, one extreme of the
Art Deco movement, was austerely functional in its purest form. It
drew on Machine Age sensibilities and minimized ornament in favor of
extreme simplicity of form following function.
Neoclassic Neo-classicism, which is sometimes called Louis XVI, lasted from
1750 through 1800. Travel into Greece, Italy, and the Near East
during this time produced archaeological discoveries, and
publications about these were spread through Europe. In response,
designers of this period looked to classical art for inspiration.
Chair backs took on rectangular or shield shapes, and slender,
straight lines were the rule.
Neo-Gothic Popular from the 1820s in Europe and from the 1840s in North
America, this style features such motifs as pinnacles, crockets, and
Queen Anne An American style created in the early 18th century. The most
relevant feature is the cabriole leg. The cabriole leg is a bowed,
offset leg that grows from the floor around the entire piece. Walnut
is the favored wood, but maple and cherry are also used. Mahogany
began to achieve popularity during this time.
Regal Generically, a traditional furniture style characterized by majestic
forms. Many especially European furniture styles are further
characterized by the name of the specific monarch or monarchical
dynasty during the style's time period, such as William and Mary and
Regency/Empire Essentially a continuation of the neo-classical style with a
stronger archaeological emphasis. Napoleonís campaigns in Egypt
inspired the use of Egyptian ornament. Mahogany furniture took on
winged lion supports and pilasters headed with sphinxesí busts or
Rietveld In the early 20th century, Rietveld style grew from the Dutch Arts
and Crafts movement with a strong Frank Lloyd Wright influence.
Machined forms and manmade materials figured in this style, which
sought to preserve the integrity of Arts and Crafts while embracing
the modern world.
Renaissance This movement began in Italy in the 13th century and continued
through the 17th century. After it was introduced in France it
spread throughout northern Europe. It often features ornamentation
inspired by Italians Michelangelo and Raphael. The furniture is true
to the purpose of the piece and often incorporates mythological or
biblical figures. Walnut is often the wood of choice.
Republic A variation of the Federal style.
Retro A contemporary retrospective view, which reinterprets some of the
best-loved looks from the 1930s to 1980s. The mood of these pieces
is playful and ironic. The classics have extra emotional punch
because you recognize such items as exaggerated Hollywood sofas,
1950s boomerang tables or wacky '70s chairs from late night films,
TV sitcoms and old cartoons.
Rococo A French-influenced style that dominated the first half of the 18th
century, essentially a lightening of the baroque period. Rosewood
and fruit woods replace the darker woods used previously. The
details of the furniture were more delicate, curved forms with
smaller units of ornament.
Romanesque Early medieval furniture with crude Roman influences. Characterized
by arches and curves, simple geometric arrangements, coarsely
rendered animal and plant forms, and paint in decorative hues. Found
throughout Europe, the Romanesque style preceded Gothic and
Russian The Russian style is a blending of styles from throughout Europe.
The production of metal furniture can be considered a purely
"Russian" phenomenon since the production of metal furniture was not
found elsewhere in Europe at the time.
Rustic 18th century utilitarian objects that were usually handmade of
common materials. Decorations resembled natural growth of trees,
etc. The strength and character of southwestern and Colonial Mexican
design is included in this style, as are the hunting lodge looks of
the Adirondacks and the northwest.
Scandinavian At the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition and the 1939 World's Fair in New
York, the larger world was first exposed to the simple, clean, and
lightweight forms of Scandinavian furniture. Quality craft combined
with mass production where appropriate are hallmarks of the style.
Bent plywood is a commonly used material.
Shaker The Shakers, who were a religious society with colonies throughout
the United States, produced furniture during the early nineteenth
century that is characterized by its economy and efficiency. They
produced works with the attitude that work is prayer, which resulted
in highly practical and functional designs that appeal to modern
tastes. The plain turnings of a classic, straight back, Shaker chair
is indicative of the designís commitment to simplicity and function.
Sheraton Thomas Sheraton gave his name to a stylistic period from the late
18th to early 19th centuries. The Neo-classical movement is heavily
influenced by his The Cabinet Dictionary and The Cabinet-Maker and
Upholsterer's Drawing Book.
Southwestern Contemporary style which is highly influenced by Native American
Indian traditions. Light-colored woods, light and bright color
palettes, rich patterns, and desert scenery characterize furniture.
Spanish Ranging in time from the mid-1200's to 1600, furniture of this style
is vigorous, masculine, and even barbarous. Typical pieces were
richly carved, painted, gilded, and inlaid with ivory in a Moorish
manner. They used metal supports and ornamentations, nail heads, and
chip or gouge carving techniques.
Traditional Traditionally styled furniture is available in both original antique
pieces and quality reproductions. This type of furniture usually
follows a particular period style such as Georgian, Tudor, Regency,
or Louis XV.
Tudor The Tudor period is generally accepted as the reign of Henry VIII
through the reign of Elizabeth I of England. Tudor furniture was
typically massive, heavily carved, and influenced by Italian
Renaissance furniture. The foregoing Gothic style contributed its
straight lines to this period as well.
Victorian Victorian refers to a time period rather than a particular style.
The Victorian period fell between 1837 through 1901. The industrial
revolution allowed for the mass production of furniture and styles
from earlier periods were drawn upon. Heavy ornamentation is a
hallmark of the Victorian period. The round ottoman, balloon back
chair, and single end sofa were all developed during this period.
Victorian can be further subdivided into Victorian-American and
William and Mary An American style popular in the American colonies during the late
1600ís. Walnut and maple became the material of choice and veneering
was introduced for highly figured, naturally decorative wood. Hinged
lids were placed on desk boxes on stands, and on chests of drawers,
producing the secretary we are familiar with today.
Windsor The term Windsor refers to a chair style dating from the 18th
century. Use of local woods is characteristic of Windsor chairs,
which are available in regionally variant forms. Saddle-shaped seats
and spindle backs are common.
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