Friday, 4 March 2011

Furniture designs

Eighteenth century houses were generally designed using graceful classical Roman or Greek influences, however as archaeology was in its infancy (e.g. excavations at Pompeii began in 1748), English landowners had no idea what the interiors of grand Roman buildings looked like nor how they were furnished. Popular influences for furniture design were ornate rococo and baroque, chinoiserie, palladian and gothic.

Baroque and rococo designs are abundant in country house furniture, with their whimsical, asymmetrical and fussy features, such as scrolls, cherubs and putti, shells, garlands and stylised acanthus leaves.

The influence of the East can also be spotted in our country houses, often referred to as chinoiserie. Following increased trade with the East and publications of books such as Sir William Chambers' Designs of Chinese Buildings in 1757, knowledge about Eastern ideas spread. Although Oriental lacquer cabinets had been popular pieces from the seventeenth century, now influences were more widely adopted. Pagoda-style features on furniture, exported Chinese wallpaper and Oriental designs and images on ceramics were very popular.
chinese wallpaper
Chinese wallpaper at Temple Newsam, Leeds

Palladian and neo-classical styles in furniture and interior design are also prevelant, with classical fireplaces (such as those by Robert Adam), marbled columns and plasterwork on ceilings and walls, as well as the use of symmetry and broken pediments in heavy furniture such as bookcases. Items from Roman excavations such as urns and vases were widely reproduced and used as motifs in designs.

 Finally, a stylised Gothic style gained some popularity, pre-dating the Victorian craze, and is epitomised in Horace Walpole's fanciful Strawberry Hill.  You can spot this influence occasionally in a Gothic feel to furniture such as in chair legs and backs.

The Victoria & Albert Museum website has an excellent guide to these and other styles available online.

Although many fashionable eighteenth century houses took on a definate classical look in their architecture, their interior design, fine arts and furniture could vary from the swirling, asymmetrical excesses of the baroque to a sumptious and exotic Oriental style, highlighting the various influences and tastes of the period.


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