& Jacobean Period
The long reign of Elizabeth I was one of order and expansion, when the English
finally abandoned their attempts to conquer France and turned their attentions to the
New World. The increase in trade led to an unprecedented influx of wealth, the
emergence of a merchant class and a new era of building.
the reign of James I of England in 1603 the exuberance of the Elizabethan age was
gradually subdued and foreign styles rose in importance. This trend increased under
James son, Charles.
Puritan influence that first became apparent in the reign of Charles I intensified during
the Civil War years (1642 - 46), so that by the time of the Commonwealth, Puritanism
dominated most of the country.
Early English Style
The Golden Era of England's prosperity began under Elizabeth, when new furniture was added
to existing 'second hand' items. There was little sense of creating period decoration in
the idealistic way of the revivalists at the end of the 18th century.
Beds and cupboards, known as aumbries, were built into walls as were benches and settles.
Only the master luxuriated in the comfort of an armchair - the rest of the household had
to make do with sitting at a trestle table on a long bench or form. Chests or coffers were
common for holding precious linens and many survive today. Joined furniture of the early
Stuart Period followed these patterns, remaining elaborate but lighter in form.
Furniture made during the Puritan period of Oliver Cromwell was plain and had few
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Restoration of the Monarchy Period
the austere years of Puritan rule, the return of the monarch from exile in Europe heralded
a period of great luxury. On his return Charles II set about creating a court as dazzling
as those of his Continental counterparts.
the flight of James II to France in 1688 following his unpopular religious policies,
William and Mary (daughter of James II), were invited from Holland to rule England. The
arrival of a foreign prince meant the introduction of yet more influences from abroad.
short reign of Queen Anne, sister of Mary, was marked by victories abroad in the War of
Spanish Succession and a new sense of comfort and style at home.
With Charles II back on the throne in 1660, the country was opened to
Dutch and French influence with many highly-skilled furniture makers settling in England.
Furniture remained heavy but with more carving and fine detail became fashionable, notably
in the sculpture of Grinling Gibbons. Locally-grown oak was the basic wood for country
pieces and carcasses but, by the end of the century, case furniture was often veneered
with English walnut or walnut imported from France or Virginia.
The Georgian Era
reigns of George I and II saw great changes in fashion in art, architecture and all forms
of design. The stylistic diversity and experimentation in design during this period owed
much to the fashion of travel abroad.
Mid Georgian period is renowned for the fine furniture produced by the countrys most
Late Georgian period is synonymous with neo-classicism. The excavations of the cities of
Pompeii and Herculaneum caught the public imagination and influenced every sphere of
design and fine art.
18th century England saw renewed prosperity on an unprecedented scale.
The result was a huge increase in the production of decorative arts and the development of
a distinctive English style.
William Kent was the first architect to include furniture as part of his integral design,
setting a trend for the rest of the century. The designs of Thomas Chippendale's Directory
of 1754 reflect the English vogue for the French, Chinese and Gothic tasts. There was a
departure from classical order and a move towards fantasy and asymmetry.
The second half of the 18th century was dominated by
innovation in furniture design; the pre-eminent style was neo-classicism, developed by
Robert Adam. Adam rejected the swirling curves of Rococo and evolved a new style
characterised by symmetrical lines, attractive proportions, geometric shapes and a wealth
of neo-classical detail. Probably Adam's most lasting influence in furniture design was
the development of the sideboard.
George Hepplewhite popularised Adam's designs in his 'Guide' of 1788 while Thomas Sheraton
heralded a new era with his 'Drawing Book' of 1791-1794. Furniture of this period is
characteristically light and elegant in appearance. Straight, tapering legs are typical of
chairs at this time as are geometrical forms and the use of Greek and Roman ornament.
Regency + William IV Period
George IV took over from his sick father, George III, his influence as patron of the arts
was considerable, and the Regency style was developed by an innovative group of his
favourite designers and architects.
brief reign of William IV was an important period of transition between the Regency and
Victorian eras. Classically inspired architecture of the Regency period was still popular,
but the romanticism that was to characterise the Victorian era had begun to take hold.
The complex designs of Sheraton's 'Cabinet Directory' of 1803 and the
elaborate taste of the Prince Regent, laid the foundations for the styles which we often
assume to be Victorian. The Regency was an era of innovation but based on revivalist
styles such as Jacobean, French and the Grecian designs of Thomas Hope.
This period saw the introduction of more exotic imported timbers, rosewood was in common
use until the middle of the century, often inlaid with brass. In many cases pine or deal
replaced oak for drawer linings and legs were turned rather than square.
early years of Victoria's rule were characterised by immense social change, rapid
population growth, the expansion of the cities and the rise of the middle class. In order
to provide this class there was a move away from hand-made crafts towards mechanisation.
1851, the Great Exhibition was held. Victorian in every way it was a staggering display of
technological and artistic achievement, that influenced British design for decades.
It is easy to be confused by the Victorian period as styles were not
superseded by another 'new' fashion as in the past. The emergence of a middle class meant
an unprecedented demand for furniture in varying styles; Renaissance, Jacobean and Gothic
all continued through most of the 19th century alongside an eclectic French style based
loosely on 18th century details. Even Chippendale was not ignored.
New manufacturing techniques and materials such as iron were available for furniture.
There are some examples of coal being used to make tables and chairs.
Walnut replaced rosewood from the 1840s only for rosewood to come to the fore again twenty
years later. By the 1880s, satinwood - this time imported from the East as opposed to the
West Indies - became popular as Sheraton and Adam designs were rediscovered.
Arts & Crafts Style
A pure Gothic style was embraced by AW Pugin and by the 1862 London
Exhibition makers such as William Morris and William Burgess. Morris and the critic John
Ruskin inspired a new generation of makers and designers looking towards a purity of
design and honesty of craftsmanship. These principles were fundamental to the Art
Workers'Guild, The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society of 1888 and the Guild of Handicraft
founded by C.R. Ashbee in the same year.
Charles Voysey was a major influence in this simpler style, often using native oak. The
look continued well into the 20th century with the Cotswold School of Earnest Gimson, the
Barnsleys and Gordon Russell.
20th century England Period
England, From 1890 - 1914.
England basked in middle class prosperity and comfort with furniture to match. Often
produced in large quantities, Edwardian design drew heavily on fashions from the previous
two centuries. If it was innovative, it was in its clever reduction of scale to fit
smaller rooms at a time when space was at a premium with the massive boom in urban sprawl.
Mahogany, rosewood and satinwood were particularly popular, often with ivory or bone
stringing outlined with boxwood.
Art Nouveau Style
Wistful and foliate - the term Art Nouveau comes from a Parisian shop
of the same name which sold work by some of the best designers of the day; Emile Galle,
Louis Tiffany and Eugene Vallin.
It was the progressive designer from the Arts and Crafts movement, Arthur H Mackmurdo, who
sowed the seeds of Art Nouveau in England as early as 1883. In turn the Scotsman, Charles
Rennie Mackintosh, influenced the development Art Nouveau in Europe which began to
flourish in 1889 at the Paris Exhibition, distinguished by the building of The Eiffel
Tower. At the Paris Exhibition of 1900, the Art Nouveau movement reached its peak and by
1910 was already being surpassed.
Art Deco Style
The Art Deco movement was born in and dominated by France. Young
designers reacted against the sinuous style of the previous twenty years and reintroduced
straight lines into furniture. The use of wood once again became an important factor, a
leading proponent of the movement was Emile Ruhlmann who used Macassar ebony and even
sharkskin. A Chinese style lacquer became popular. After the upheaval of the First World
War, new styles allowed new materials such as chromed steel tubing for chairs by Le
Courbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer.