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The History of Furniture
Furniture and Home Decor
From earliest times, humans have devoted much of their energy to creating and improving their environment. When they ceased to be nomadic, they began to make furniture to increase the comfort and usefulness of their dwelling places.
As wood has always been the favored material for furniture making, very few examples of early work have survived.
What we know of early furniture has come from the vase paintings and reliefs of people such as the Egyptians and Assyrians, the Greeks and the Romans. The early Egyptian cabinet-makers knew the art of decorating their creations by inlaying with precious stones and metals, although such furniture would have been in the possession of only the very wealthy. The ordinary people kept their few possessions in wooden chests and their beds were reed mats on mud benches.
Using Wood to Make Furniture
The woods most commonly used by the Egyptians were pine, walnut, teak and cedar. and tables were often inlaid with silver and ivory. Wealthy Romans had cooking utensils made entirely of gold and excavations in Pompeii uncovered examples of bronze and marble furniture.
Furniture in the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, furniture was simple, usually consisting only of beds, tables, chairs and cupboards, all of which were portable. Ownership of things was still restricted to the upper classes. Under Norman rulers, furniture began to be used more and was artistically made, though rather heavy and sombre.
Renaissance: Luxury Furniture
The development of more luxurious furniture began during the Renaissance in Italy. It was no longer purely utilitarian, but became much more decorative with influences from classical styles. It became very fashionable to have highly ornamented furnishings and craftsmen were aided and supported by rich patrons such as the Medici family in Italy. This vogue spread rapidly to other European countries.
The Italian fashions reached England during the reign of Henry VIII and the Jacobean and Restoration styles evolved directly from this. There was increasing use of upholstery and the present type of chair developed from its box-like predecessor.
The Georgian Era
Chippendale and Sheraton were very famous cabinet-makers in the Georgian era, and architect and designer Robert Adam made a major contribution by harmonizing the furniture with the architecture of a house. These Englishmen all drew their inspiration from what is perhaps the most celebrated period of cabinetmaking in France: that of Louis XIV. This period and the subsequent rococo styles were notable for their extreme ornamentation and elaborate use of gilding and inlay.
During and after the French Revolution styles became more restrained culminating in the Directoire style which can be compared to the Regency period in England.
The style of the eighteenth century continued throughout the nineteenth century, most of the designs being more elaborate copies of earlier work.
Early in the twentieth century, at the same time as the Futurists were inspired to produce art expressive of the machine age, furniture designers and architects started to make use of modern materials such as steel and aluminum and to make extensive use of glass.
The trend of furniture design during the twentieth century has been towards functionalism, which is the belief that the ultimate use of the article should be the main influence in its design.
The Elements of Style: The Art of Fine Furniture-Making in America Then and Now
© 2014 Paula Atwell