History of Furniture

It would be impossible to cover the history of furniture in anything less than several volumes, but it may be useful to know some of the major styles. I think too many people have the idea that "historical" furniture is florid and ornate while only in the "modern" era have clean lines prevailed. In fact, the history of Western furniture is characterized mostly by cycles of ornamentation. The Empire style of Napoleonic France was the culmination of a clean-lined reaction to the ornament of the Louis XIV and Louis XV periods. Empire design was inspired in large part by the discovery of the Greek cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii and the resultant public interest in ancient worlds. (Note: Much of the American Empire style was typically heavier and more massive than European versions.) Similarly, the clean lines of Craftsman style furniture was a reaction to the florid Victorian decoration.

Furniture styles do not evolve in a vacuum; they arise from, and sometimes in opposition to, existing styles. The aerodynamic motifs of Art Deco were a reflection of the fascination with the machine age and the introduction of automobiles, airplanes, skyscrapers and of the technological explosion following the turn of the century.

The important thing to remember is that each and every furniture style has beautiful examples and, shall we say, less than beautiful examples. The style that matches your taste or house may surprise you. To see more on the history and styles of furniture, visit this online antique guide (to which I have no affiliation). Discuss your design ideas with your furniture maker - you might be surprised where it leads!