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Furniture Styles - Some Governing Influences

Style was frequently controlled and directed by the affairs of State and by Court intrigues. The habits and customs of the people as they became more defined brought about the necessity for a new style. As an instance, the feeling of greater security produced by civilisation gave rise to many changes. This may be seen in the widening of the dining-table in the days of the Restoration, when it was no longer necessary from considerations of safety to sit at meat with back against the wall and sword in readiness. The table was then made wider, and it was placed in the centre of the room so that servants could move freely round it and wait upon the guests.

As will be seen in a subsequent chapter, the incidents of travel gave the cue to the artist who carved or painted the ornament upon chests and coffers—and especially marriage coffers—in early days.

At a still earlier period in Egyptian times the style of ornament evolved from the materials at hand, and from those substances which were brought to that country by native travellers and merchants. There was a plentiful supply of ivory and ebony for overlays, and artists who painted and ornamented wooden furniture found ready at hand a model to copy in the lotus flower growing on the banks of the Nile. Right along the line, through the history of the furniture trade, style was chiefly formulated and controlled by the prevailing influences and surroundings of the day ; the materials selected were those at hand, although when there was a variety of materials those chosen were selected to produce ornament by contrast. New styles in furniture resulted from changes in material, and from altered design and ornament in other things. The architecture of the day influenced style in furniture, but outside, or what may be termed foreign, influence, often effected a complete change.


Style changed from the plainest of primitive furniture made for practical use, without any suggestion of ornament, to the more elaborate and extravagant styles, by a gradual process. At every stage in the development, however, there was a cause to which this change was attributable. At the time of the Commonwealth, after the downfall of the Royal cause, all things appertaining to the older order of things were swept away, and a severe style came into being. Again, at the -Restoration, the carving as well as the fashioning of the new furniture was a strong contrast. At one time there was French influence, at another Italian ; then for a time Eastern designs were popular, followed in due course by periods of carving, of inlays, and of painted design.

Sometimes there does not appear to have been any special reason for a change of style, other than that the change occurred to some one suggested from some common object with which the woodworker would be familiar. Thus when an ornate oak panelling was desired to replace the plain panels, many of which had been painted after a fashion not then popular, two styles came into vogue ; one the parchemin, cut in imitation of rolls of parchment upon rods, the other the linen-fold, which is said to be emblematic of the veil covering the chalice at the consecration of the Host in the Catholic Mass. There are some beautiful examples of this early woodwork at Hampton Court Palace and in other old buildings, although these styles were in vogue but a short time.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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