Exploring Wood Furniture Styles Across Different Eras

October 16th, 2023 Blog

A photo of a round Victorian living room. There’s a huge chandelier in the centre with a round table below. There’re two fabric chairs on either side and a fainting chair behind

Unlike many elements of home design — which have all changed dramatically — wooden furniture has stayed relatively true to its original form and function. In fact, the first known use of wood to create furniture dates back to Ancient Egypt, when both peasants and Pharaohs would sit, eat, and sleep on wooden household items.

In this post, we’ll be exploring wooden furniture and aesthetic choice across different time periods in the English-speaking world, with some insight into the history of woodworkers over the past few centuries, too. But instead of beginning in 3100 B.C.E., we will take a more modest bite and start approximately 300 years ago, in the early 1700s during the Georgian period.

The Georgian Era — 1714 to 1837

The Georgian period, which encompassed the reigns of George I through George IV, is famous for its fine and high-quality wood furniture. Pieces during this period were intentionally well-balanced; designers placed a special onus on symmetry and proportion. British designers were heavily influenced by their peers in Italy and France and so used dark, elegant woods to create tables and desks with narrow, tapered legs.

Notable designers and woodworkers during this period include George Hepplewhite and Thomas Chippendale — a craftsman who drew inspiration from gothic and rococo fashions and became renowned for his ornate, beautifully carved yet functional pieces.

The Regency Period — 1811 to 1820

Rosewood and mahogany were commonly used during the brief Regency period, which sits within the trends of the greater Georgian era. Regency-era designers held clean lines in high esteem, and they leaned on brass décor in place of ornate wooden carvings.

While claw foot furniture was popular throughout the entire 18th century, it was used by artisans during the Regency era in particular; these master designers carved stools and tables in elaborate fashions to resemble animal or bird claws grasping stones.

The Victorian Era — 1837 to 1901

Queen Victoria heavily influenced this era in furniture design; her love of ostentatious, grand, and opulent style swayed the creation of household beds, chairs and tables.

Encompassing call-backs to Tudor and Renaissance-era styles, Victorian designers favoured sumptuous and rich dark woods, with luxurious velvets lining the cushioning on dining chairs, chaises, and settees. Heavy set wooden furniture pieces were ornately carved with fillagree embellishments.

A common identifier of Victorian furniture is low or no arms on wooden dining chairs. This was a technique to allow women, amid their layers and layers of ballooning skirts, to sit more comfortably.

Wooden Furniture in the Edwardian Era — 1901 to 1914

Identifying furniture from the Edwardian era can be somewhat challenging. Craftsmen at the time attempted to reignite interest in departed styles, resulting in a mishmash of both old and new design elements.

One key indicator of Edwardian furniture is that pieces were generally made with lighter wood, like maple. When a wood like mahogany was used, it wasn’t finished using as dark a stain as it would have been in prior eras.

More exotic woods, like bamboo and wicker, began to appear in furniture fabrication during this timeframe, too. And contrasting, decorative inlays were often used for decorative flair.

A bright white modern-day bedroom. There’s a wooden bed with a white comforter and a tall white closet in the back

The Roaring Twenties

Three furniture styles dominated the 1920s: the Art Deco style, an aesthetic referred to as Arts & Crafts, and Early Modern.

Art Deco

Originating in Paris and inspired by Art Nouveau, the Art Deco style is easy to identify by its rigid, geometric forms shaped by industrial influences, like vehicles, skyscrapers and trains.

Rounded edges, impeccable symmetry, waterfall-style fronts, nesting tables, and impeccably polished and lacquered exotic woods, like zebrawood and ebony, are indicators of an Art Deco piece.

Notable craftsmen at this time include Edgar Brandt and Charles Picquet. The Art Deco style truly embraced ostentatious extravagance!

Arts & Crafts, also known as Mission

A style that figured itself as a statement against industrialization, Arts & Crafts furniture during the 20s put minimalism, simplicity, and natural elements at the forefront. It leaned heavily upon the natural form and beauty of wood, eschewing more ostentatious decorative flair. The simple design of Arts & Crafts is still used commonly today, especially in wood furniture for the bedroom.

Early Modern

Similarly, Early Modern designers cherished the pared-back aesthetic. However, in contrast to Arts & Crafts pieces, Early Modern furniture was made using a moodier colour palette, and pieces were less-substantial and robust.

The Roaring Twenties was a period of post-war celebration. Furniture was geared toward high-end clients who had money to spend on what was, for a spell, considered a frivolity — home décor.

Hollywood Regency — the 1930s

Inspired by Hollywood’s glitz, glam, and prosperity, wooden furniture was made on a smaller scale and decorated with glass, metal finishes, and mirrors. While designs were similar to those seen in Art Deco pieces, Hollywood Regency furniture had a slight softness, with fewer hard angles and edges seen in the previous decade.

Modernism — the 1940s to 1960s

Also referred to as mid-century modern, this design style was a rapid departure from the aesthetics embraced in the past decades. Here, furniture was inspired by Scandinavian design and elements of Bauhaus. Modernist designers upheld organic forms, and commonly used teak. Both dark wood and very light wood took the limelight — it was the first period to fully embrace lighter-toned woods, like unfinished pine.

When identifying mid-century modern furniture, characteristics of note include narrow, clean geometric lines, minimal frills, and purpose over aesthetics.

Spaceage – the 1960s

Furniture reached an experimental peak in the 60s and with mixed results. It was bright, groovy, and flashy (you could say it was ‘out of this world’). Plastic furniture had its moment, with the egg and Panton chairs taking the spotlight.

Wooden furniture during this time was very sturdy, often made with oak, beech, or teak. It featured slick, clean lines, allowing the period’s heavily patterned wallpaper and colourful shag carpets to do all the talking.

If robust and well-made furniture from periods like the 1960s has been well maintained and protected, and measures were put in place to keep furniture from rotting, you’ll often still see it in homes today.

1970s

Ergonomics were deeply considered during the 70s, and thankfully so! While the visual look and the tangible feel of furniture were important, this decade prioritized comfort, support, and space — with many designers focusing on modular furniture.

Pine wood and rich Scandinavian teak were commonly used, as their natural earthiness played beautifully off a room’s rich, earthy-hued, bold textiles (say, in avocado greens and harvest yellows). Wooden furniture became slightly chunkier and heavier as the decade progressed, though some designers were clearly still inspired by mid-century modern design.

Present Day

These past few decades have seen a rise in the popularity of home-refinishing projects, with many people opting to repurpose old furniture — which isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem. This is especially true if one is attempting to refinish an heirloom piece, or a genuine piece of antique furniture, where extreme care should be given so the piece retains its storied integrity.

Homeowners today are also embracing a modern meets vintage look. Mid-century modern and the industrial vibe of Art Deco, albeit with a modern undertone, are currently incredibly popular. As is cottage-core, shabby chic and the prominent use of Scandi design, as seen through the use of lighter woods. It’s an exciting time for personal taste and fostering a space that’s truly yours.

When one furniture era ends, it doesn’t come to an abrupt stop. You’ll often see creators today taking design elements from the Victorian era or inspiration from the 60s.

One of the beautiful things about quality wooden furniture is that it’s always elevated and ever-evolving. However, if you buy a signature piece of wooden furniture today, it won’t go out of style or look dated in 10 years; it will be a signature piece for many decades to come.