English Furniture Styles


English furniture styles developed in ways broadly in line with those of mainland  Europe, but were interpreted in a distinctive fashion. There were also many regional variations within the British Isles – a term that once encompassed England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  In England itself, regional accents are marked by the differences between, say, North Country chairs and those of the West Country; Salisbury and Norwich were noted centers of production at an early date.

Wales retained the dresser and the press cupboard as status symbols long after they had ceased to be fashionable in England, and further distinctions are to be drawn between those of North and South Wales.

In late-18thC Scotland, Edinburgh was producing sophisticated furniture, some of it with distinctive differences from that of London.

In the mid-18th century, Irish furniture was so extravagant in its use of richly carved mahogany – especially for side tables on cabriole legs – that a whole class is described as ‘Irish Chippendale’.


Romanesque Imported to Britain by the Normans following the conquest in 1066. Rounded arches – a typical Romanesque feature – occur on chests as late as the 17 th C,  But the few examples still in existence which date from earlier than 1300 are simply constructed and mostly carved with roundels bearing little relation to Romanesque architecture.

Gothic About 1300 to 1550. The change from! Romanesque was gradual. Paneled construction from dates from about 1480, the panels were often carved with linen-fold. The coronation chair at Westminster Abbey has a back with a pointed arches made in 1296 by Master Walter of Durham, it was the first English piece firmly attributable to a named maker. The Gothic style was revived in Regency and Victorian times.


Renaissance When Elizabeth’ came to the throne in 1558, most furniture was functional and plain. After 1570, a version of Renaissance style owing more to France and the Netherlands than to Italy found expression in fat turnings surmounted by Ionic capitals, solid inlay, carved caryatids, strap work, split baluster turnings.


Strictly speaking, the reign of James I, (1603-25 ) but also used to cover that of Charles I (162549). Geometric mouldings, split balusters, bobbin-turnings; popular until about 1720.


Sometimes known as Carolean, in reference to Charles II, restored to the throne in 1660. Also covers the reign of James II, 1685-9. Dominant style is baroque but more Franco-Dutch than Italian. Twist legs, carved

scrolls, caned seats and veneering. Skilled French workers sought refuge in Britain when Louis XIV of France ceased to protect Protestants, 1685.


More foreign craftsmen (Dutch and French)  arrived in Britain following the accession of William of Orange and his wife Mary, the daughter of James II, in 1689. Fine cabinet making, walnut and ebony veneers and floral. Legs are turned to trumpet shapes or scrolled and scroll develops into cabriole leg by the end of William’s reign in  1702.


During her reign, 1702- 1704, the cabriole leg donated; surfaces were veneered with walnut, but marquetry became less evident. English craftsmen, having acquired foreign skills, adapted these to their own style.


George I and early years of George II until about 1730; mainly a continuation of the Queen Anne style, but rather heavier. Claw-and-ball feet became the fashionable termination of the cabriole leg. Architect William Kent designed Italianate baroque furniture as a dramatic contrast to cool Palladian interiors.


George I, 1730-60 and the first years of George III. Mahogany replaced walnut as the fashionable wood. In 1754, Chippendale’s designs appear; Rib bon-back chairs, ornate gilt mirrors and console tables expressed the English interpretation of rococo. Some designs loosely followed French (Lou is XV) fashions. Gothic style revived.


The George III period lasted from 1765 to 1800, but the term is sometimes extended back to 1730. First came the neo-classical style led by Adam – vertical lines, ovals, circles, columns, urns, disciplined carving, gilding and painting related to the Louis XVI style. Those of Sheraton 1791-4, providing a domestic, middle-class version of neo-classicism.


Much furniture made in 1830-50 was still neoclassical, but heavier than Regency; some affinity with Charles X (French Restoration). Paralleled with this are the Gothic revival led by Pugin and the rococo revival by commercial manufacturers making balloon-back chairs, asymmetrical chaises lounges on cabriole legs.  Increasing use of machines.


The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, 1851, brought Continental exhibitors to London, stimulating an eclectic taste for revivals of almost all historic styles, and imitated in poorer quality, mass-produced furniture. Mass dining and bedroom suites; but parlour pieces more elegant, with some sofas and chairs fringed and deep-buttoned in Napoleon III style. There were serious attempts at reviving medieval craftsmanship by reformers, such as Morris. Burgess, Talbert. Godwin who experimented with Japanese concepts.


Heavy Victorian styles persisted until about 1910, along with reproductions of English, French and Italian historic types, but the Arts and Crafts Movement, led by Mackintosh, Ashbee, Baillie Scott and

Voysey introduced new ideas in sympathy with some aspects of European art nouveau, to which are often married commercial products that are partly an offshoot of the Edwardian revival of Sheraton styles in mahogany with inlaid decoration.


The period between the two world wars, started by genuine desire for greater simplicity and honesty, brought economically made furniture of the type produced by Heal and Russell, but in competition with mass-produced junk on the one hand and finely made but expensive products on the other. The term Art Deco – like most stylistic labels – was unknown at the time the furniture was being made. It derives from the 1925 Arts Decoratifs exhibition in Paris, and only came to be applied to the style in the 1960s.