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Periods Of Decoration - Part 2

[Furniture]  [Home Decorating And Budgeting]  [How To Use Scale, Proportion, Balance, And Rhythm]  [Periods Of Decoration - Part 1]  [Periods Of Decorations - Part 2]  [Periods Of Decoration - Part 3]  [Periods Of Decoration - Part 4]  [More Home Decorating Tips] 

( Originally Published 1955 )

George Hepplewhite (d. 1786) Cabinetmaker

Furniture Characteristics

Hepplewhite worked both in mahogany and in satinwood. With the latter he frequently used painted motifs for decoration.

Chairs. His chairs are the most typical example of Hepplewhite's designs. The backs take various forms: shield, with the center slat following a lyre-shaped form; camel; oval; heart; and wheel. The chair back seldom meets the seat, but is supported instead by extensions of the back legs.

His carved or painted motifs are Prince of Wales feathers (usually a grouping of three), blades of wheat, vases, ribbons, garlands, reeding, lyres, and other classic motifs. Legs are straight, round or squared and tapered toward the feet.

Sofas. The backs of Hepplewhite sofas are slightly curved or divided into several curves rising toward the center, or consist of two or three chair back shapes placed in a row, with squared and tapered legs.

Tables are of the Pembroke (see Glossary) type with two drop-leaves and squared, tapered legs. Side tables are semi-oval or circular or have serpentine fronts; kneehole tables for writing; drum tables; dining tables made in sections with semicircular ends and straight legs. Sideboards have shaped fronts and concave end sections. Chests are either curved or straight. The top section of the highboy is slightly receded. Tops are straight with finely molded cornices.

Desks are of the kneehole type or the tambour type, on four slender legs. There are also Hepplewhite slant-top desks. Secretaries have straight tops finished with moldings. Mirrors with frames are made in typical shield or heart shapes, or are rectangular with an urn in the top center of a broken-curve pediment. Leaf and floral sprays of wire and plaster, gilded, often sprang from such an urn.

Hardware. Escutcheon plates for keyholes are oval, octagonal, round, or oblong, and are made of brass embossed with classic scenes, simply molded. Handles are brass knobs or round, swing type, drop handles.


Rich or delicate tones of pink, gray, blue, yellow, gray-green, and white-beige are most suitable with Hepplewhite furniture.


Choose delicate floral patterns with ribbons, garlands, plumes, Chinese motifs, and scenics.


You may use brocades, moire, damask, satin (antique and shiny), sculptured and plain velvet, chintz, printed cottons and cretonnes, leather, and caning.

Delicate floral patterns with ribbons, garlands, and plumes; Chinese motifs; and delicate stripes are the most appropriate fabric motifs.

Window Treatments

The window treatments recommended for use with Chippendale furniture are equally good with Hepplewhite. You may use fringes, tassels, balls, or molded tassels; plaitings, and contrasting bindings. Swag valances, also, may now be used to advantage.

Glass curtains are of silk gauze, fine net, dotted marquisette, organdy, or tambour (muslin with chain-stitched embroidered motifs of leaves and flowers). Venetian blinds and bamboo blinds may also be used.


French Aubusson, English rugs and carpets of delicate floral patterns, needlepoint rugs, and hooked rugs in delicate floral patterns make attractive floor coverings with Hepplewhite furniture.


Porcelain bases in vase, urn, and column shapes with Chinese, floral, or classic motifs are appropriate, as are Wedgwood, lusterware, glass, alabaster, marble, and silver lamps. Lamp shades may be of fine silks, rayon, marbleized paper, parchment, or paper, in white, gold, or silver.

AccessoriesSuitable accessories consist of Georgian silver, porcelains, fine glass, crystal, mirrors, Coramandel lacquered screens, scenic wallpaper screens.

Harmonizing StylesChippendale or Sheraton furniture can be used satisfactorily with Hepplewhite since it is of a transitional style and can be united with one or the other.


The Adam Period

Interior Architectural Treatment

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, both exterior and interior architectural design were influenced by the discovery of ancient Pompeii and Herculaneum, and became classic and formal in feeling. Several famous architects were responsible for introducing this new influence, but perhaps the best known was Robert Adam of the Adelphi, the name of the firm he and his brother John had established at that time. Therefore this period is popularly known among interior decorators as the Adam Period.

It was his desire to attain a unity of design in everything he did, from interior architecture to furniture, fabric motifs, and accessories; and he employed such cabinetmakers as Hepplewhite, and particularly Sheraton, to execute his furniture pieces, and Angelica Kauffmann to execute wall and furniture paintings and Wedgwood ceramic plaques in the classical manner-all of which makes our late Colonial American period more understandable.

It was really Adam who wooed us away from the elaborate interiors. Although the type we refer to as Adam furniture is a little too formal and delicate for most homes today, let us look into his interior backgrounds, in which Sheraton's furniture designs also belong and which we in America borrowed and used, in a somewhat simplified form, for some of our own late eighteenth-century Colonial interiors.

Adam Interiors (1762-1794) Architects and Designers

Wall Treatments

Wood paneling went out of style in the late 1700's and was replaced by plaster walls. Paneled effects were obtained by applied moldings. The fields of these panels were often decorated with plaster decorative forms in low relief or plaques in classic designs or arabesques (rambling leaf designs with spiral forms branching from a central root), or the panels were simply painted with these designs.

When this form of paneling was omitted, the plaster walls were painted, with a chair rail running around the room to break the wall space.

Although painted walls were most commonly used, fabrics and wallpapers with classic designs and in plain colors often covered the walls. In such interiors, niches with arched tops were sunk into the walls to display fine marble statues or urns, and classic fluted columns were almost invariably used to frame the entrance to a formal living room.

Mirrors in delicately designed and gilded frames played an important part used over mantels and wall tables.

Mantels were of white marble or wood carved with fluting, urns, swans, classic figures, etc.; and hob grates were used in the fireplace opening.

Furniture Characteristics

Adam introduced the straight line in delicate forms. The legs of his pieces are straight and tapered, ending in a spade-shaped foot or a goat's hoof, or are round and reeded. Adam's ideas for chairs were often executed by Hepplewhite and others, and inspired Sheraton in his designs. However, the wheelback chair with straight top rails and oval shape is very characteristic of Adam, and he delighted in the use of caning for chair and settee seats and backs.

But Adam is best known for his cabinets, sideboards and other case furniture. These are done in satinwood, mahogany, tulipwood, and other fine and light-colored woods, with intricate veneered inlays or decorated with painted designs, often executed by the great woman artist of her day, Angelica Kauffmann. Applied miniature plaques with classic motifs, by the master potter of t1his time, Josiah Wedgwood, also were often used for adornment.

The typical sideboard is composed of a rectangular table on four or eight legs, with separate square end sections on which are placed urn-shaped knife boxes for decoration. Breakfronts and gilded mirrors usually feature an urn on top. Tables are round, oval, or rectangular, and are supported by slender, straight legs.

Hardware. Oval or round back plates are embossed with classic motifs of vases, rosettes, wreaths, etc., and drop handles are used. Brass knobs are embossed with wreath or rosette forms.

Thomas Sheraton (1750-1806) Cabinetmaker

Furniture Characteristics

Sheraton found inspiration for his designs everywhere, and worked in mahogany and satinwood, as did Hepplewhite. His forms, however, were more delicate than Hepplewhite's, and he confined himself almost entirely to the use of straight lines, though he often used inlaid woods and painted motifs for decoration. He was the first to use porcelain and Wedgwood plaques for ornamentation, inspired by classic designs of ancient Greece and Rome.

The legs of his furniture are straight, squared, and tapered, or round and reeded. Chair backs are rectangular in shape with straight top and bottom rails, the lower rail raised above the seat and supported by the continuation of the back legs. The centers of chair backs are filled with lyre or elongated vase shapes, or with slender vertical or horizontal bars, and some times with a lattice treatment. Caning is quite often used on chair backs and sofas or settees when not upholstered.

His late designs show the influence of French Empire and the use of concave-shaped back forms.

Sofas are distinguished by their arms, which extend beyond, and are free of, the upholstered part.

Sideboards are of two kinds: those with straight fronts with a shallow drawer beneath and straight, square projecting ends which house cupboards; and those in which the whole front is convex, including the middle section and two ends. There is often a metal plate rail along the back of the flat top surface.

The kneehole desk is oval in shape, with cupboards on the ends. Other desks are of the tambour type with sliding panels in the center.

Breakfronts usually have pediment forms at the top.

Chests are straight, or have round, reeded legs which continue to the top.

Sheraton's tables are like those of Hepplewhite, with square and tapered or round and reeded legs. His Pembroke tables, however, frequently have crossed stretchers and horizontal reeding on the edges of the table tops, including the dining tables. Sheraton is also well known for his knife boxes, which play an important decorative part on top of his sideboards. These either have slant tops or are urn-shaped.

Fire screens are on tripod bases or have spread leg supports on two ends.

Favorite Sheraton motifs are swags, wreaths, urns, shells, lyres, and small oval or round decorative forms.

Hardware. This may consist of engraved oval backplates with drop-swing handles, octagonal backplates with drop handles, and brass knobs. Typical of the later period is the lion's mask with a round drop-ring pull and diamond-shaped key plates.


The delicate forms of Sheraton furniture require subtle shades of gray, pink, blue, gray-green, yellow, white.


Garland and swag motifs and delicate florals and stripes in pale colors are most frequently used. Scenic papers of classic ruins, or of Venice or Naples are lovely and appropriate for halls, dining rooms, or one wall of living room.


The most suitable fabrics are brocades, satins, damasks, faille, chintz, and fine linen. Fabric motifs may be fine stripes, small and delicate floral motifs, or classic motifs such as urns, swags, torches, arrows, stars or medallions (small in scale).

Window Treatments

Swags, shaped valances, and the French type of draping are in keeping with the period. Glass curtains may be of silk gauze, fine net, marquisette, ninon, tambor (embroidered muslin), organdy, dotted swiss; or Venetian blinds may be used.


Delicate floral patterns, French Aubusson, needlepoint, and plain-colored broadlooms of fine quality are best with Sheraton furniture.


Lamp bases are of fine crackleware, Wedgwood, crystal, glass, silver or Sheffield plate, and fine French porcelains in classic shapes.

Lamp shades should be simply tailored in fine silk or rayon or made of paper in delicate colors.


The accessories carry out the classic feeling; Wedgwood, Sevres (French porcelains), glass, silver; fire screens; delicate gilded mirrors; Dresden and Chelsea porcelain figurines; Venetian glass, crystal; paintings of classic ruins and portraits in oil in the eighteenth-century school of painting; pastel portraits and fine water colors.

Screens of the shutter type or wallpapered screens with classic motifs or scenic paper may be used in contemporary rooms with Sheraton furniture.



This was the period of the Regency of the Prince of Wales who became George IV. In architecture and design, a revolt took place against the fragile wedding cake type of ornament of the Adam period, and turned for inspiration to the more masculine French Empire style.

Walls. Wood paneling had gone out. Walls were of plain plaster and painted or, if the occasion demanded, were divided into large panels by flat fluted pilasters or narrow moldings. Niches with flat tops on which statues or urns were displayed on pedestals formed an important part in the wall decoration. These niches were often of a lighter or darker shade than the walls, or of a contrasting color.

Woodwork was painted the color of the walls, or white for contrast, or was marbleized. Sometimes the dadoes beneath chair rails were also marbleized.

Wallpapers were often used, and scenic papers were popular.

Doors. Classic figures and other classic motifs were often painted on door panels. When doors were not so treated, they were left plain with only an oversized brass doorknob in the center for decoration.

Windows were large, frequently of tinted glass. The bay window became fashionable.

Mantels of black or white marble or wood were severely simple, with crossed arrows, rosettes, or diamond shapes to ornament the ends or center. Fireplaces were provided with hob grates.

Furniture Characteristics

Forms are inspired by those of ancient Greece and Rome, as are the French Empire pieces. Woods used are mahogany, rosewood and ebony, while other woods are frequently lacquered black. Carving is rarely used; instead, brass ornaments in the shapes of lions, horses, swans, eagles, and other classic motifs were applied to furniture. Supports for case furniture and tables are found in the form of sphinxes, human figures, obelisks, swans, eagles, or plain rounded columns. In place of paneled doors, bookcases and wall cabinets have gilded wire screened doors, backed with colored silks to keep out the dust.

Chairs have concave legs and backs which roll over at the top rail; the center section is filled with a horizontal slat or with crossed arrows or some other crossed design. Upholstered backs are usually rounded.

Tables are of the tripod type or drum-shaped. If a center column or columns are used, they are placed on a triangular platform.

Desks are tall and flat with a drop front.

Hardware. Round or diamond-shaped backplates, lions' heads with rings in mouths, and squared drop handles are typical of the period.


Many colors are appropriate in English Regency decor: ruby red; sapphire blue; golden yellow, pale lemon, chartreuse, or lime Yellow; emerald green and bottle green; purple and lavender; rich browns, buff; Chinese pink, apricot; eggplant; light or dark gray; white and black.


Wide stripes in white and gold, or the colors listed above. Classic motifs predominate: urns, torches, arrows, quivers, stars, medallions, diamond shapes, wreaths, swags, columns, lyres, stylized forms of horses, classic figures, and mythological groupings. Papers for special panels, to be used in place of built-in niches, represent classic figures and large urns. Scenics depicting mythological scenes, classic ruins, the Bay of Naples, etc., are excellent, as are papers representing walls draped with fabrics.


Suitable fabrics include velvets (silk or cotton); rich, lustrous satins, taffetas, brocades, and moires; chintz, rep, striped ticking, horsehair, corduroy and felt. Leather is also used frequently.

Fabric motifs consist of stripes, classic motifs, and others as listed under wallpapers above.

Window Treatments

Windows can be elaborately decorated with glass curtains, over which draw-curtains of silk gauze or lightweight taffeta are hung to the floor, and satin draperies at the sides. A simpler treatment is the use of glass curtains with draperies of taffeta, satin, chintz, or moire. Inside shutter screens may also be used with this treatment. If you wish, you may eliminate glass curtains and use only Venetian blinds and drapery.

The swag type of valance is the most correct for this period. Trim, if used, should be of silk in molded shapes, or glass balls. Glass curtains are of ninon, marquisette, silk gauze, voile, or muslin.

Floor Coverings

Plain-colored broadlooms, hooked or woven rugs of the Aubusson or Savonerie type with classic motifs. Hard flooring is perfect for such interiors: rubber tile or linoleum in plain, dark colors, white, marbleized, or in large checkered designs. Over such a hard floor base, white fur or shaggy tufted throw rugs can be used for a luxurious effect.


Bases may be of marble, alabaster, bronze, crystal, or silver in forms of columns, obelisks, urns, human figures, horse's heads, etc.

Lamp shades are drum-shaped and very tailored; made of silk, or marbleized, plain-colored, or metallic papers.


All accessories should be strictly classic in shape and design: marble or bronze busts of classic heroes, classic figures, urns, obelisks; lyre-shaped clocks; round, convex or octagonal mirrors. Bronze and gilt candelabra and urn forms; tripod flower or plant urns; china with classic motifs; wallpaper screens with classic motifs; shutter screens; crystal chandeliers and candelabras with tear-shaped drops; architectural paintings and prints.

Harmonizing Styles

French Empire, Biedermeier of Germany, Duncan Phyfe of America, and American Empire with eagle motifs, all may be combined successfully with English Regency decoration.

The Victorian Age (1820-1900) In England and America


This period most typically expresses the taste of the early industrial age, when manufacturers rather than well-trained designers first had the upper hand. Inspired by the fast reproduction methods provided by new machinery, they became gadget- and novelty-minded. The more curlicues they could add to a piece of furniture at relatively little cost, the happier they were. The result was a heavy mixture of all kinds of unrelated styles, including Egyptian, Moorish, Indian, Spanish, French, and English-all of which received a new, Victorian twist. The French Louis XV style fortunately had the greatest single influence, especially in early Victorian furniture. But even this was a clumsy adaptation, usually weighted down with new and unnecessary forms of applied decoration.

Contemporary Use of Victorian Style

The typical Victorian interior of the mid-nineteenth century and later is hardly one to emulate. But consider using Victorian in the contemporary manner, eliminating the clutter, the monstrosities. A few of the better-designed pieces can be used against simple and attractively colored backgrounds. Walls can be painted in light or gay colors, or wallpapered.

Use furniture pieces that show the graceful Louis XV influence (see French Provincial) with curved backs, arms, and legs. Typical woods used were mahogany, black walnut, or rosewood; and today these can be bleached and painted with a dull finish in white or some pastel color. Cover any ugly tables to the floor with felt or some gay, plain-colored fabric, finished off with a rope fringe. Small tables and sewing tables with a black lacquer-like finish, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl or painted with floral designs and gold bandings are often handsome and could be featured.

New pieces may be added: a modern upholstered sofa, a lounge chair (not too large in scale), or upholstered pieces with swag-draped flounces; a modern coffee table, perhaps lacquered black.


You may choose mauves and purples, grays, dusty rose, grayblues, chartreuse, lemon yellow, or white. The brighter colors are ruby red, emerald green, deep rose, deep plum, brown.


Wide stripes, large overscaled roses, bowknots, moire silk effects, flock papers, and scrolls are appropriate. Wallpaper borders are swags, tassels, fans, abalone shells, or lace designs.


Use shiny satins, velveteen, cotton taffeta, corduroy, chintz, some modern textures, felt, and patent leather in plain pastel or bright colors (oilcloth is an inexpensive substitute). Silk serge or lightweight twill weaves are best for draperies.

Fabric motifs may be wide stripes, large overscaled florals, swags, ribbon and floral designs, or bowknots.

Window Treatments

Glass curtains of organdy, muslin, and book-linen, with wide pleated ruffles, are hung full and looped back. Softer materials like net, voile, or lace hang full and straight to the floor. Use swag or festoon drapery treatment for valances, or brass embossed cornice boards in place of swags.

Venetian blinds or inside shutter screens may also be used effectively.

Floor Coverings

You may use large- or small-scaled allover floral or scroll designs, in colors or sculptured; plain broadlooms; or plain colored rubber tile or linoleum hard flooring with shaggy white scatter rugs.


Flowered or glass oil lamps are good, as are huge tubular bases, painted or covered in leather; "Blackamoors" (see Glossary); and vase shapes with floral designs or of colored glass. Large drum-shaped shades in colored papers, silks, and chintz are suitable. With vase-shaped bases, use shades in silk with fluffy ruchings at top and bottom,-but only in one color.


Use milk glass, cut glass with long hanging prisms, shell flowers, wax flowers under glass, Blackamoors, or mother-of-pearl inlay objects. Large plate glass mirrors are hung over sofas or mantels, or behind important furniture groupings. The ornate gilt mirrors of the Victorian age can be painted white or some pastel color and wiped off to let the gold show through in places. Pictures may consist of one or two good portraits in oils or pastel, flower prints, Godey prints, Valentines, Currier & Ives or Audubon prints framed in wide, colorful mats. Shadow boxes are often used to display some precious object or flower grouping. Shutter screens are the most appropriate for the period.

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