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Styles of Furniture

ADAM STYLE – British neoclassical style that predominated from about 1760 to 1790. It was established by architect Robert Adam and his brother, James. A reaction to the more fanciful rococo style of the 1750s, it is characterized by slender, graceful lines, refined shapes, and restrained ornamentation. .

ART DECO – Derived from an historic Paris exposition in 1925 that celebrated the marriage of art and industry in denunciation of Art Nouveau. It introduced simple, streamlined forms that were majestically interpreted in exotic woods and materials. American designers of the 1930s took this look further, using asymmetry, arcs, sleek lines, and geometric shapes not only in furniture, but also in architecture and a wide range of household objects.

ART NOUVEAU – Style based, literally, on the “new art” of Europe in about 1875. Flowing, nearly freeform shapes from nature were carved and painted on furniture. An elongated, slightly curved line that ends in a more abrupt, nearly whip like second curve is its most characteristic design.

ARTS AND CRAFTS – Both a furniture style and a movement that emerged in England toward the end of the 19th century in reaction to the excesses of the Victorian era and the Gay Nineties. It glorified craftsmanship in deliberately simple shapes with exposed joinery and spare ornamentation. William Morris and John Ruskin were among its proponents in England. Based on their beliefs and designs, Gustav Stickley pioneered a similar movement in America, before it waned with the onset of World War I.

BIEDERMEIER – A furniture style of German derivation in the first half of the 19th century and named after “Papa Biedermeier,” a cartoon character that represented the well-to-do, uncultured middle class. The furniture is often plain and block like in form and borrows freely from many styles, particularly French Empire, adding strength and comfort at the expense of grace and refinement.

CHIPPENDALE – English rococo style of the mid-18th century, named after Thomas Chippendale. The graceful proportions and delicate decoration of this furniture were refined adaptations from late Baroque, rococo, Louis XV, and Georgian periods. Two variations, Chippendale Gothic and Chinese Chippendale, attest to the famous cabinetmaker’s influence and ability to borrow styles.

 COLONIAL – In America this style dominated from the earliest settlements to the Revolution of 1776. Here as elsewhere it represents styles that are rooted in mother countries but adapted to the materials and uses of the colonies, primarily Africa, India, the Americas, and the Caribbean

COTTAGE FURNITURE – A term used in the Victorian period for mass produced simplified forms, frequently painted with decorative designs; often ornamented with spool turnings.

DIRECTOIRE – Style of French furniture that spanned the end of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s conquest in 1799. It is named for the Directory government that replaced Louis XVI and called for designs of smaller scale and less ostentation along with the elimination of regal references.

ELIZABETHAN – Large furniture of severe form and style that emerged initially during the reign of Elizabeth I in England from 1558 to 1603. It was revived in the 1820s and is characterized by heavy carving as well as massive size.

EMPIRE – Neoclassical style dictated by Napoleon in France between 1804 and 1815. It is based on imperial forms from Greece, Rome, and Egypt and was designed to draw parallels between Napoleon’s realm and the great ancient empires. Furniture was consciously majestic, made of rich woods and metals, and decorated with emblems, including bees, crowns, laurel leaves, mythological figures, and the letter N.

FEDERAL – American furniture style from 1780, following the Revolution, to 1830. It began by echoing and often amalgamating the neoclassical styles of such English masters as Adam, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton, and later took on influences from France. Duncan Phyfe is among its most notable craftsmen. It is refined and rectilinear, often with veneering and inlay. Brass feet and casters and brass-ring drawer and door pulls are common on casegoods.

FUNCTIONALISM – Furniture design based on use rather than on ornamentation alone.

GEORGIAN – Refers to furniture styles that evolved during the long reign of England’s three Georges, I, II, and III, from 1714 to 1795. At first it retained earlier Queen Anne forms, with an increasing use of decoration and diverse ornamentation. Popular motifs were eagles’ heads and claws, leaves, satyrs’ masks, and lions’ heads and claws.

GOTHIC – Late medieval furniture forms derived from the cathedrals of Europe. Heavy, large pieces were generously carved in architectural motifs. Chests banded with decorative wrought iron, large trestle tables, and such symbols of status as “beds of estate” and X-framed chairs are characteristic

HEPPLEWHITE – Style named for cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite, whose furniture drawings were published after his death in 1786. They exemplified the Adam and neoclassical styles, but had slimmer, lighter lines and less angular shapes. Hepplewhite often used the Prince of Wales’s feathers motif on chair backs.

INTERNATIONAL STYLE – Modern, functional furniture developed in Europe during the 1920s and 1930s. Its most important origin is Germany’s Bauhaus, with such practitioners as Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Simple lines and an absence of decoration are its hallmarks. New materials, such as chrome and glass, along with factory production, signify its departure from earlier furniture traditions.

JACOBEAN – Style of English furniture during the first half of the 17th century, named for King James I, who reigned from 1603 to 1625. Italianate carving, especially cupboards with arabesques, and the common use of upholstery typify the robust and comfortable style, which continued through the reign of Charles I, from 1625 to 1649.

LOUIS XIV – Baroque furniture that accompanied the reign of Louis XIV in France from 1643 to 1715 was a somewhat reserved version of that style, featuring modest rather than exaggerated curves. Furnishings and decoration reflected formal grandeur. Decorative motifs, often boldly carved, included beasts from mythology, garlands of fruit and flowers, animal forms, and the fleur-de-lis in particular.

LOUIS XV – The more feminine rococo style evolved during Louis XV’s reign, from 1732 to 1774. It was exemplified by diminutive scale, rounded edges, flowing lines, and freeform ornamentation. Oriental lacquer and porcelain plaques were sometimes incorporated into veneers.

LOUIS XVI – Neoclassical style came to the fore during the reign of Louis XVI, from 1774 to 1792, and with this revival, furniture became more rectilinear and geometric. Cabriole legs, for example, gave way to cylindrical or square ones. Also in reaction to earlier rococo styles, decoration, though opulent, was restrained. Floral themes, for instance, were replaced by architectural motifs.

MISSION – Simple, rectilinear furniture, primarily of oak, in which the construction techniques are often exposed. It represents America’s version of the English Arts and Crafts movement and is principally associated with Gustav Stickley and the Roycroft Community of upstate New York in the early 20th century, from which it spread to other regions.

MODERNE – American style of furniture in the 1930’s that derived from Europe’s Art Deco and International Style. It is characterized by polished surfaces, sleek shapes, curves that contrast with straight lines, and asymmetry, and utilized new materials and manufacturing processes adapted from industrial design. The architecture of skyscrapers was also influential.

NEO-CLASSICAL STYLE – Revivals of interest in ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian themes, which occurred during the Renaissance, Adam, and Empire eras, and especially in the late 18th century, when appetites for it were whetted by archeological discoveries.

NEO-GOTHIC – Revivals of aspects of Gothic detailing, which took place in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the former, circa 1745, references to Gothic arches and tracery were applied to rococo furniture. Later, Gothic ornamentation was added to neoclassical forms.

PALLADIAN STYLE – Based on designs by mid-16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, which featured very large and dramatic pediments, cornices, and sculptural decorations of eagles, scallop shells, acanthus leaves, and other motifs, rendered in massive scale. Windows and columns in this style carry the name today.

PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH – The name applies to German settlers in Pennsylvania. Their furniture is distinctive since their cabinet makers worked in soft woods, which they painted and often decorated with floral patterns and other motifs from the vocabulary of peasant design.

PROVINCIAL – Furniture from the hinterlands that is inspired by designs from the major centers of a country but adapted to local materials, tastes, and ways of living. Location not only influenced alterations in design and materials, but also spawned useful pieces, such as the cobbler’s bench, that were not needed by the cities’ royals or nobles.

QUEEN ANNE – Style that arose in England during the reign of Queen Anne, from 1702 to 1714, in a break from French influences. Veneering in walnut was popular, and gentle, subtle curves added grace. This period marked the development of secretaries and china cupboards and a maturing of the cabriole leg, serpentine arms, and soft, rounded frames and shapes

RÉGENCE STYLE – Spanned the transition between the death of Louis XIV in 1715 and the ascension of Louis XV in 1723, when France was ruled by a regent. The furniture style was a parallel transition from massive straight lines to graceful curves.

REGENCY – Neoclassical style of British furniture that was popular during the first four decades of the 19th century. It is named for the Prince of Wales, who, as regent, stepped in to rule from 1811 to 1820 because his father, King George III, went insane. It spawned adaptations and faithful reproductions of Greek and Roman furniture, such as the saber-legged Klismos chair, and coincided with Directoire and Empire styles in France.

ROCOCO – Style of 18th-century European furniture made of rich woods with elaborate scrollwork and curved forms. Its origins are from the Régence style of France, and its influence was widespread. It is considered a daintier, more refined version of earlier Baroque style.

SHAKER – Furniture designed and made by Shakers, an American religious, communal sect founded in the 19th century, that believed beauty derived from usefulness and impractical objects were sinful. The unadorned furniture features clean, spare, elegant lines, exemplified in the slim, tall, Shaker ladder-back chair.

SHERATON – British neoclassical style named after Thomas Sheraton, who published designs in the early 1700s that reinterpreted Adam style by diminishing ornamentation. Sheraton pieces are more delicate than Adam, yet more severe and linear than Hepplewhite. Many contain inlay, painted decoration, and bands of contrasting veneer. Openwork with urn, swag, or lyre motifs is characteristic of his chair backs.

STICKLEY – Furniture designed and built by Gustav Stickley, who pioneered the American Arts and Crafts movement and promulgated its principals of clean, unadorned, durable furniture through publication of The Craftsman in 1901.

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