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  • Baroque

    Today's furniture designs often reflect the timeless styles found throughout history; as seen here in this chair from the Baroque period.

  • Victorian

    Illustrations like this of a 19th-century Victorian table give context to today's furniture design.

  • Tiffany

    Tiffany style lamps such as this gained popularity around the turn of the century, with original models featuring leaded stained glass. 

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Tiffany style lamps such as this gained popularity around the turn of the century, with original models featuring leaded stained glass. 


Louis, Louis

Not sure you can tell the difference between Louis XIV and Louis XV pieces? Here's a clue: Not as massive as the Louis XIV style, Louis XV furniture stressed elegance and a lighter touch.

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  • Furniture Style Basics: Historic

    An easy-to-understand guide to the most popular home furnishings styles throughout history.

    by Sam Gaines

    You’re looking at a sofa. What do you see? How do you describe it? You can talk about the shape, the size, the color, the finish, the upholstery—yet one of the easiest ways to convey much of this information is to mention its style.

    Furniture designers, manufacturers, and retailers refer to style as a kind of shorthand. You can learn that shorthand, too, in just a few minutes. Style categories run a broad range, beginning with the recognized styles of post-Renaissance Europe and other pre-modern categories and continuing to the present day. Here’s what you need to know:

    For simplicity, we’ve organized the major furniture styles into two articles: Historic & Present Day.


    Historic (Including French, English & American; covering the 17th – 20th centuries)


    French Styles

    17th Century

    The Baroque influence of Italy was magnified in France, as broken pediments, columns with distinctive twists, and heavy moldings came to define design.

    • Louis XIV: The French Bourbon king established the Gobelins furniture factory, where designers created the grandly scaled furniture that marks the style and influenced much of Europe. Tortoiseshell woods, elaborate carvings, gilding, inlays and lacquering are typical of the period. 

     18th Century

    The ornate Rococo style of pre-Revolution France dominated much of European design, inspiring new directions in furniture design across the continent. Bold curves and the emergence of ormolu, a type of brass crafted to resemble gold, are hallmarks of this dominant design.

    • Louis XV: The curvilinear flow that defines the Rococo period made its biggest impact under the new Bourbon king. Not as massive as the Louis XIV style, Louis XV furniture stressed elegance and a lighter touch. The bombé commode became a popular piece during this period.
    • French Provincial: A more relaxed, but still somewhat ornate style came to popularity away from urban Paris, taking cues from the dominant Rococo style but relaxing the accents considerably. Natural finishes and bright painted colors are hallmarks.
    • Louis XVI: The 1750s brought a sudden shift in taste, as the surge of neoclassical influence took hold in French design. Architectural discoveries of classical architecture and sculpture throughout the ancient world kindled a new commitment to the straight line. Fluting and tapering became style points, and the elaborate use of tortoiseshell.
    • French Empire: Following the French Revolution and the fall of Louis XVI, the neoclassical revival of classical forms added new influences. Napoleon’s military incursions into Egypt and southern Europe brought style accents of ancient Mediterranean civilizations into vogue.


    English Styles 

    • Oriental: The elegant simplicity and delicate hand-painting of chinoiserie of China’s Ming dynasty were introduced to English design by Sir William Chambers. British designers began incorporating these colors and techniques into their own work, beginning with Thomas Chippendale.
    • Queen Anne: Named for England’s regent of 1702-1714, Queen Anne furniture adapted an existing style named for previous monarchs—William and Mary. Queen Anne pieces introduced cabriole legs (already popular in continental Europe), drake and pad feet, and fiddleback chairs.
    • Georgian: Succeeding Anne on the English throne was George I and later George II of the Hanover line, and new style emerged with them. Taking Queen Anne style as their foundation, Georgian designers opted for heavier lines and abandoned the simplicity of Queen Anne design for ornate carving and even gilding.
    • Chippendale: Thomas Chippendale was one of England’s greatest designers of the 18th century, so it’s no surprise the style bears his name. Chippendale pieces introduced shades of French, Gothic, and Chinese flourishes into the English style vernacular, building on the dominant Rococo designs of the period.
    • Adam: Like many of his contemporaries, architect and designer Robert Adam studied in Italy. More than anyone else, he was responsible for stirring the neoclassical reaction to the Rococo movement. Adam’s work emphasized classical proportions and harmonious reflection of classical details (such as lyres, ram’s heads, and wheat ears and sheaves as motifs) in every detail of the home.
    • Hepplewhite: Thomas Hepplewhite took Adam’s influence and lightened the line, so to speak. A more delicate appearance marked Hepplewhite’s style, which featured tapered legs and contrasting veneers and inlays.
    • Sheraton: George Sheraton popularized the other major direction of 18th century design—neoclassical style—and added his own touches. Lighter construction, neoclassical motifs, and contrasting veneers characterized his designs. His influence stretched across the Atlantic to affect many American designers of the same period.


    American Styles

    18th Century

    • American Colonial: Adapting the prevailing English styles but relying upon locally available wood, American designers gave their own signature to an existing movement. American colonial pieces tend to be simpler and less ornate than their English cousins. 

    19th Century

    • American Empire: Also known as the Federal style, the post-Revolutionary period in the United States brought the newly emergent French design into the American design vernacular. With cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe setting the tone, American Empire offered the style notes of Sheraton and Hepplewhite in simplified form. X-shaped supports and lyre motifs are common notes of Phyfe’s style.
    • Victorian: A new eclecticism and sense of revival made the Victorian period a catchall of previous styles. American Empire and Louis XV pieces received updating, with rounded, open-backed dining chairs. Scrolled curves and a renewed version of the cabriole leg were very fashionable.

     20th Century

    • Art Deco: The Machine Age had an enormous impact on design, as the German Bauhaus studio stressed clean forms and metallic simplicity. Art Deco designers both incorporated and reacted to the Bauhaus revolution. Fusing classical structure with ancient influences and the imperatives of simplicity and mass production, Art Deco achieved great popularity in the period between the World Wars and remains a favorite today.