Furniture – English – Tudor (1485 – 1602)
The increasing wealth in Europe following the Renaissance (from 1450) and exploration of the New World was reflected in the furniture in English homes from the reign of Henry V111. Prior to that time, furniture consisted of simple wooden benches, boxes of various sizes used as chairs, tables and even beds, and rarely chairs or beds.
During the Tudor period, joinery replaced simple plank construction and ornate carving proliferated.
The Tudors invented the four-poster bed, the trestle table, the draw table (or refectory table), the Glastonbury chair (a folding chair with arms) and the wainscot chair (an armchair on a box). The emphasis on folding furniture came from the fact that the living quarters were also the workplace with the furniture being pushed aside, or folded up, to make space for carrying on a trade.
All Tudor furniture was oak.
The use of inlay spread with the arrival of German craftsmen in England in the 1580s.
Furniture – English – Jacobean (1602 – 1625)
By the Jacobean period, people could afford some comfort, carpets, cushions and, later, upholstered furniture, became available. The most common chairs were “farthingale” chairs – these have a gap between the padded back and seat to accommodate the hooped whalebone petticoats, called farthingales, which were fashionable for women.
Jacobean refectory tables were lighter but longer (with up to eight legs) than Tudor tables.
Jacobean furniture was mostly oak, but yew and elm were also used.
Furniture – English – Carolean & Cromwellian (1625 – 1660)
The Puritan movement which led to Cromwell overthrowing the Monarchy and the beheading of Charles 1 in 1649 affected all areas of English life, including the furniture. Upholstered furniture became less common and ornate carving was reduced in favour of carved stylised masks of Charles 1 on the backs of so-called mortuary chairs.
As well as uncomfortable chairs, this period saw the invention of the notoriously unstable gateleg table. Early gateleg tables were usually walnut and had spiral, turned legs. Small movable tables made of pine or oak and covered with leather or textile also came into use.
Furniture – English – Restoration (1660 – 1677)
The Monarchy was restored in 1660. Charles 11 returned from the opulence of Louis XIV’s France. Adding to the dramatic changes of the period, the Great Fire destroyed London in in 1666.
The resulting shortage of timber, as well as the new ideas from the Continent, saw oak being replaced by walnut and beech in furniture making. Beech was the first light-coloured timber to be used in English furniture.
At the same time, the techniques of veneering, marquetry and lacquering were introduced from the Continent. One of the most characteristic items was the pier table. This was a small side tables, placed against a pier on which a mirror was hung. Matching candlestick stands were often placed at each side of the table. Early examples were usually veneered in walnut but, from the 1670s, more elaborate decoration using marquetry, sometimes incorporating ebony or silver, became popular.
Bookcases and kitchen dressers became common during this period. A Pepysian bookcase (originally designed by Samuel Pepys) consisted of a tall cabinet with glass doors and a carved cornice resting on top of a chest-shaped cabinet. A James 11 dresser had three drawers, decorated front panels and an upper shelf which was usually decorated with a scalloped design.
Cabinets on stands had been imported from the Continent earlier in the 17th century but, after the Restoration, English examples began to be produced. These were made with a matching stand which had six legs. Lacquer, and from the 1670s, japanned cabinets became increasingly popular. These were usually set on gilded, craved stands.
The writing desk developed from the cabinet. These had small drawers, like a cabinet, and a fall front which became the writing surface.
Furniture – English – William & Mary (1677 – 1702)
When the Dutch William and Mary ascended to the English throne they introduced Dutch designs into England. These included chests of drawers on stands, cabinets with domed tops and upholstered stools.
Grand walnut furniture, often veneered and sometimes covered in marquetry, was typical of this period.
Pier tables became ever more ornate. by the turn of the century they were usually of gilded, carved wood with elaborately carved tops.
Caning for the backs and seats of chairs was introduced and armchairs lost their farthingale gap. Day beds, at first with a caned seat, but later comfortably padded, became popular.
Furniture – English – Queen Anne (1702 – 1714)
Queen Anne furniture (and also early Georgian furniture) is similar to William and Mary but generally smaller and less formal. Most Queen Anne furniture had cabriole legs.
Typical examples include the Queen Anne chair, which has a violin-shaped curved back panel, a drop-in upholstered seat, cabriole front legs with scallop-shaped decoration and square back legs. The Queen Anne dressing table had three drawers with an arch-shaped front piece under the middle drawer.
There was a proliferation of small pieces, such as side tables for tea, small chests of drawers (called bachelor’s chests) and small cupboards and cabinets for displaying china.
This period also saw the evolution of the cabinet on a stand into the tallboy (chest on chest) and, eventually, into the large bureau cabinet. Such items were veneered in strongly figured or burr woods or were japanned in red or black with gold chinoiserie relief.
A great deal of furniture was produced in the Queen Anne period and even more has been reproduced since.
Furniture – English – Georgian (1714 – 1800)
With the increased wealth coming from the New World and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, high standards of workmanship, rapidly changing fashions and “designer labels” were demanded.
Famous furniture designers of the Georgian period included Thomas Chippendale, Robert Adam, Thomas Sheraton and George Hepplewhite.
Cuban mahogany, which is harder and more resistant to woodworm than walnut, became the main timber in furniture.
In the 1720s and 30s, the Palladian movement revived sober, classical Roman styles. But by the 1730s, the influence of French Rococo was being felt with large numbers of immigrant craftsmen producing carved and gilded woodwork in fantastic shapes. By the 1750s, Gothic and Chinese themes were being incorporated into English furniture decoration.
In 1794, Thomas Chippendale published a book called “Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director”. In it, he applied the Continental rococo style of decoration to a wide range of furniture, while curing the greatest excesses of the style to suit the less flamboyant English taste. Chippendale’s designs were intended to be made using mahogany rather than the Continental practice of using elaborate marquetry and painted fruitwood. Chippendale also produced designs using Gothic and Chinese decoration.
Despite the fanciful decoration, the basic design of English furniture remained based on classical principles. These came to the fore with the Neo-Classical movement during the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century.
James “Athenian” Stuart, an architect, introduced the neo-classical style to English design but Robert Adam was, by far, its most important exponent. His work ranged from town planning, to the design of buildings, interior design and furniture. In furniture, he designed elegant pieces with classical motifs and fine inlaid decoration.
George Hepplewhite’s “Cabinet-makers’ and Upholsterers’ Guide” appeared in 1788, two years after his death. It applied the neo-classical style to all kinds of furniture and stressed the suitability of mahogany for its manufacture. Hepplewhite’s designs were elegant but strongly constructed. He is particularly associated with chairs with heart-shaped and oval-shaped backs. Hepplewhite’s “Guide” was responsible for the spread of the the Neo-Classical style to many parts of Europe and to North America.
Thomas Sheraton’s “Cabinet Makers’ and Upholsterers Drawing Book” in 1791 advocated lighter, more delicate furniture, with simple, severe lines sometimes with painted decoration and the use of satinwood.
Furniture – English – Regency (1800 – 1830)
During this period of Napoleonic power in Europe, English style were greatly influenced by the French Empire style. The main distinguishing characteristics were brass embellishment of timber furniture and the use of upholstery decorated with “Regency” stripes.
At the same time, there was a great interest in antiquity and the Orient. This was seen in pieces which reproduced antique forms or which incorporated antique styles and in the continuing production of chinoiserie pieces.
This period also saw the beginning of the effects of the industrial revolution, with rapidly increasing population, movement from the country to the city and a growing middle class. This, in turn, led to the manufacture of increasing quantities of solid, serviceable pieces as well as the luxurious and ornate pieces produced for the aristocratic class.
Round tables became popular in the Regency period. The pillar-and-claw table was a round table with a single pillar and four splayed legs, each with a brass foot. The drum table was also round with a single pillar and splayed legs but it had drawers fitted all the way around under the top.
The canterbury, a stand for sheet music or cutlery, came into use in the Regency period.