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Interesting facts about the history of furniture design
Interesting facts about the history of furniture design

Video: Interesting facts about the history of furniture design

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Furniture design has continued to evolve throughout history. From bed and chest, over desks and chests of drawers to chaise longues. You can find out here how the furniture design changed over the course of history and which pieces of furniture were particularly formative for which time.

Table of contents Table of contents Furniture design and its history: From the Middle Ages to Art Nouveau

  • Furniture design in the Middle Ages
  • Gothic style - the late Middle Ages around 1200-1500
  • Furniture design in the Renaissance
  • Furniture design in the Baroque period around 1630-1720
  • Rococo furniture design around 1720-1770
  • Classicism furniture design around 1770-1820
  • Furniture design in Biedermeier around 1825-1848
  • Furniture design in historicism around 1850-1900
  • Furniture design in Art Nouveau style around 1895-1910

Table of contents Table of contents Furniture design and its history: From the Middle Ages to Art Nouveau

  • Furniture design in the Middle Ages
  • Gothic style - the late Middle Ages around 1200-1500
  • Furniture design in the Renaissance
  • Furniture design in the Baroque period around 1630-1720
  • Rococo furniture design around 1720-1770
  • Classicism furniture design around 1770-1820
  • Furniture design in Biedermeier around 1825-1848
  • Furniture design in historicism around 1850-1900
  • Furniture design in Art Nouveau style around 1895-1910

Furniture design in the Middle Ages

Romanesque - the Middle Ages around 800-1200

The furniture design in the Romanesque is based on the art of ancient Rome.

Typical style element: arch

Typical furniture: chest

Construction: Simple construction, simple processing

The table is lifted - what ended a common meal today as a pale metaphor was common practice in the Middle Ages: you lifted the tabletop from the trestles or slabs and set it aside until the next meal, to which tripods, folding chairs, post chairs and box seats were placed replaced the tabletop. Chests, tables and chairs were the first furniture in the actual sense, that is, mobile furnishings. Shelves, benches, cupboards and beds were firmly connected to the house: the carpenter built them into the walls as niche furniture. He processed native types of wood from ash, oak, nut, fir, larch and pine. The surfaces were hardly treated, sometimes soaked with hot wax or varnish, which gave the wood a velvety-dark color. Iron fittings made chests and cupboards stable, burglar-proof and decorated them.

The artisans made ever more elaborate fittings, formed iron bands into tendrils and other ornaments. The arched arcades typical of architecture and depictions of people, animals and plants were notched in the wooden surfaces. The few surviving, painted furniture was mostly church furniture. The basic equipment included a chest, chair and bed. Beds were built from boards and posts, they were put together and mortised. The big difference to today: the beds were short - you slept half sitting, half lying.

Mittelalterliche Truhe
Mittelalterliche Truhe

The chest was the most common piece of furniture in the middle ages.

Photo: iStock / seraficus

Gothic style - the late Middle Ages around 1200-1500

The gothic architectural style directs the gaze upwards, vertical lines are emphasized.

Typical style element: pointed arch

Typical furniture: chest, closet

Construction: frame construction with thinner fillings, emphasis on the vertical

Narrower pillars, pointed arches, less solid masonry, more windows - the late medieval construction gave rooms an airy appearance. Not only did Gothic architecture appear more delicate than Romanesque, furniture design also became lighter: the sawmill was invented in the 14th century, and boards of any size could be cut, furniture fronts and side parts made from thin wooden panels. The dovetail connection has been known since the Gothic period. Instead of thick planks, she used mortised posts.

The frame structure, which is still valid today, was created from the massive Romanesque furniture construction. The craftsmen from southern regions, the Alpine countries and southern Germany mainly used long-fiber soft softwoods, which are suitable for flat carvings, for plastic carvings they also took oak and beech. Oak was the most important material for the northern countries (northern France, Flanders, the Netherlands, northern Germany, England and Scandinavia) - furniture was mainly made from this short-fiber hardwood. In early Gothic, mythical creatures were still carved, later figurative representations were rare. The following ornaments were characteristic of Gothic furniture design:

  • Pointed arch in flat and notch cut
  • Folding mechanism that looks like folded linen or parchment, created by planing technology
  • Tracery carving - the shapes were constructed geometrically with circular strokes, decorated window openings, gables, wall surfaces. Main motifs: fish bubble and three-pass (cloverleaf)
  • Ribbon-shaped X ornament, surrounded by plant representations, especially for fillings.

Increasing wealth promoted home decor and furniture design: furniture was no longer built into the wall, and the walls were paneled with wood. The most important pieces of furniture were still chests - but they were placed on top of each other for reasons of space and connected with a base, a carved belt. This double chest (the typical shape of the southern German cabinet) was opened on the front by two doors; continuous cupboards were built. Other new furniture was also created, the drawer chests. Chests used to be filled with laundry and clothing, now boxes for valuables and documents were used. Later the front wall of the chest was left out and drawers, chest benches with foldable backrests and gallery closets were installed. This display chest for vessels, which stood on stilts or on a table, is considered the first luxury piece of furniture and the forerunner of the sideboard.

Gotische Ornamente
Gotische Ornamente

The Gothic artisans were known for their ornaments. In early Gothic, mythical creatures were carved, and later figures.

Photo: iStock / Neyya

Furniture design in the Renaissance

Florence was the birthplace of this era. There, the cultural and economic rise was evident in the construction and furniture design of the palazzo: wide, bright rooms, often decorated with paintings, wall hangings, leather wallpaper.

Instead of building frame construction and fillings, furniture was designed as an artistic unit in clear, strict forms. The furniture was limited to a few fixed types and placed on the walls so as not to impair the spaciousness of the rooms. New furniture types emerged:

  • Small furniture - clothes racks, brass stands, mirrors with stucco frames
  • Seating and table chests - The characteristic furniture of the Florentine high Renaissance was the cassapanca (from cassone = large box, chest), a chest bench with back and armrests, from which the sofa later developed. These were used to paint scenes from mythology and cityscapes, decorate them with marquetry, and later with carvings. During the High Renaissance, the chest developed into a sideboard: a low cupboard with two doors, mostly with drawers under the cover plate.
  • Seating: People sat on stools and folding chairs. Because they wanted to sit more comfortably, they started to upholster the chairs - until the folding chairs could no longer be folded.
  • Writing cabinets were first built in the 16th century. Writing was no longer only the business of the merchants, functional furniture was required: it was made from the basement of a cupboard, the upper floor was redesigned into a cabinet with drawers behind the hinged front - the writing surface.

Renaissance in France around 1515-1630

In the early Renaissance, France still adhered to the late Gothic architectural style and furniture design, only transferring the new ornaments, medallions with portrait heads and tendrils to the fillings of domestic oak furniture.

The style was strict, clear; in the late Renaissance, plastic jewelry increased. The chest lost its importance in the course of the 16th century, the classic furniture of the French Renaissance was the Armoire ý deux corp s, a cupboard with a rather narrow superstructure, four doors and drawers in the middle section, divided by pilasters and columns, often with an attachment in gable shape. One of the most popular furniture was the cabinet. An important piece of seating furniture was the boudoir chair - in the late Renaissance it was called Chaquetoire (from caqueter = chat, chat).

Renaissance in Northern Europe around 1550-1650

Northern Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and England formed a coherent area with the same furniture design. Similar to France, in the beginning only the new ornamentation replaced the late Gothic fold on the furniture panels. Strict architectural compositions consisting of columns, pilasters, plinths replaced the late Gothic scaffolding with fillings, and furniture manufacturing that was purely carpentry developed. Late Gothic chest and cabinet shapes remained in use for a long time.

Renaissance-Stühle
Renaissance-Stühle

The chairs developed in the Renaissance: chairs with square studs, with high or richly carved backrest were added to the folding, folding and scissor chair.

Photo: pixabay / everything

Renaissance in the Alps around 1550-1630

Through trade relations with Italy, the Renaissance penetrated Strasbourg, Basel, Augsburg, Nuremberg and Vienna earlier than in the north. Until the 1970s, the simple furniture design of the early Renaissance predominated.

Then one began to get enthusiastic about facade cupboards, finally the cupboards were designed like house facades - architecturally structured by pilasters and columns. In Italy and France, work was mainly done with walnut, in Germany still with oak. The large furniture workshops in Nuremberg, Augsburg and Basel processed ash veneer, which was technically advanced compared to the north. The southern German Renaissance furniture was less strict than the French and Italian. Augsburg was a special address: Cabinets for princely houses all over the world were built here, with lavish inlays, later silver fittings, figures and paintings made of ebony. The closet became important, as did the sideboard, cabinet, and folding desk.

The shapes of the chairs became more diverse: In addition to folding, folding and scissor-type chairs, there were chairs with square studs and high, richly carved backrests. The seats were made of wood or leather and without upholstery. Typical ornaments: turned columns, carvings, moldings, antique motifs such as masks, hermets, triangular gables, lion heads

Furniture design in the Baroque period around 1630-1720

The name Baroque comes from Portuguese barocco - that means irregular. Characteristics of this era are size, movement, play of light and shadow.

Typical style element: putti

Typical furniture: chest of drawers

Construction: Broken ledges, cranked and curved profiles

Typical style element: arch

Typical furniture: chest

Construction: Simple construction, simple processing

New social manners shaped the furniture design and thus also new types of furniture: console tables and chests of drawers, the typical representative of which was the double chest of drawers with a bulbous lower part. The desk developed from the cabinet. Cabinets were built ever more elaborately: solid or veneered with drawers in the base, with fillings framed by profile strips. The carpenters used polished walnut veneer and ebony. Carved oak was out of fashion, and the furniture was often decorated with gilded bronze. The baroque was the heyday of marquetry. Brass, tin, ivory and tortoiseshell were inlaid on a wooden background. After the veneer cutting machine was invented, a new insertion technology was born: the marquetry.

A special feature and also characteristic of the furniture design of the time is the variety of chairs and armchairs: the feet were connected by footbridges, carved curved armrests. The chairs were upholstered with fabrics made of velvet, silk, tapestry, canvas embroidery, and more rarely leather. Seats were almost always upholstered. They dined on large extending tables with baluster legs and lavish carving. The furniture coquetted with intricate motifs, the so-called cartilage, which became Rococo as rocaille, with volutes, acanthus leaves and figural carvings such as putti and ribbon.

Barocke Kommode
Barocke Kommode

The typical baroque furniture is a bulbous double chest of drawers.

Photo: living4media / Wojnar, Radoslaw

Rococo furniture design around 1720-1770

The Rococo furniture design developed from the Baroque era as a feminine, delicate variant, in which strict symmetry was removed and convenience became important.

Typical style element: shell

Typical furniture: chaise longue

Construction: Abundantly curved shape, asymmetrical middle section

The different styles of individual countries did not diverge as much in Rococo as in previous epochs. Bulky baroque furniture has been replaced by graceful, light pieces of furniture - still round, curved, curved, arched and decorated with increasingly varied, intricate bronze fittings. Even seating furniture had no sharp edge, the legs or feet ended in the "goat's foot". Surfaces were emphasized more by ornamental structure; popular ornaments were flower garlands, leaf tendrils, medallions with motifs such as lyre, vase, fans and shell. The shell (French: Rocaille - ear cup work) is considered a symbol of the era.

The surfaces were inlaid in color and highly polished, also painted in white or with bright colors; they were pasted with copper engravings or painted birds, flowers and landscapes - mostly with blue-green lacquer. People paid more attention to the interplay of furniture and rooms and coordinated them with one another: ceilings and walls were also painted very lavishly. In the Rococo style, the furniture was evaluated according to a new criterion: it had to be comfortable: the back and armrests were padded thicker, the wing chair and the extended chair were invented - the chaise longue. Convenience, luxury and gimmick were the inventors of new furnishings such as small tables with drawers and retractable compartments, play and dressing tables, cylinder desks, litter boxes and oven screens. The carpenters preferred oak, walnut, mahogany, satin wood and exotic woods for veneer and inlay surfaces.

Chaiselongue
Chaiselongue

In the Rococo period, massive baroque furniture was replaced by curved, round, more feminine pieces of furniture, such as the chaise longue.

Photo: iStock / vandervelden

Classicism furniture design around 1770-1820

A departure from the lavish baroque and rich rococo: the cabinetmakers remembered the furniture design and the simplicity of the ancient world.

Typical style element: straight line

Construction: Classic basic shapes, simple, clear structure

The rococo debauchery was rejected as reprehensible - a new stiffness dawned: classicism or braid style, called empire in France. Classic elements from antiquity were used: pearl sticks, small garlands, à la grecque braids, dolphins, mermaids, lions, sphinxes. The artisans mainly worked with mahogany; often painted the wood white, partly gilded it. The grain was considered and emphasized in the figurative course, almost became an ornament. Wood carvings looked simple and reserved. Seating was built in a straight line, stiff with firm upholstery and a high backrest. The legs were sharpened, fluted and enlarged by cube blocks at the lower end.

Furniture design in Biedermeier around 1825-1848

Bourgeois furniture design was expressed: simple, functional and comfortable furniture was built.

Typical style element: cornucopia

Typical furniture: sofa

Typical style element: straight line

Construction: Classic basic shapes, simple, clear structure

Biedermeier-Tisch
Biedermeier-Tisch

The typical Biedermeier table: bulged center support, four tapered legs and a round table top.

Photo: living4media / Wojnar, Radoslaw

The Biedermeier was an art epoch and a style of furniture; it left no trace in the architecture. The name came from Biedermann and Bummelmaier - two literary figures from the "Flying Leaves" and poems "Biedermaier's Song Pleasure" (1848, by Victor von Scheffel and L. Eichrodt) published therein. The focus was on the sofa - massive, deeply upholstered, with a round table in front of it. The table top lay on a baluster-shaped or angular center support. Four tapered legs often carried round, diameter-closing plates (Demi-Lune). Chairs had openwork, simply carved backrests, seats were upholstered. The legs swung slightly outwards, were straight or conical. They were only turned in the late Biedermeier period.

Desks and secretaries looked like dressers with two or three drawers or two doors; in the upper part one folded down the writing surface, behind which small drawers, compartments, often also secret compartments, were stacked. Popular furniture and accessories: sofa, bureau, sewing table, embroidered oven umbrella, floral wallpaper and fabric and showcase. In Biedermeier it was particularly popular to collect and display glass and porcelain. The cabinetmakers processed cherry, birch, pear, poplar, yew, and sometimes also mahogany and walnut. They combined light and dark woods. However, they rarely used ebony for these contrasts, but colored simple types of wood black. Inlaid surfaces were rare; smooth, polished was preferred. Solid or veneered - it was important that the grain came into its own. All in all, the furniture had few ornaments, simple carvings, small inlays inside a piece of furniture, brass and bronze fittings.

Furniture design in historicism around 1850-1900

The past styles were conjured up - historicism developed into the era of the mix of styles.

Furniture was increasingly manufactured industrially - the manufacturers were unable to further develop the Biedermeier furniture. Instead, they looked for suggestions in furniture design from past stylistic eras. The furniture became more expansive, lush plush and velvet covering characterized the facilities. Floral patterns in dark colors dominated curtains, wallpaper and carpets. The furniture imitated Egyptian and ancient, oriental, Chinese and Japanese types and quoted all historical forms. Even machines with antique emblems were presented at the World Exhibition in London in 1851. The Renaissance was particularly stimulated in Germany: since the founding of the German Empire in 1871, the feeling of nationality had increased, "old German" was in demand. After this so-called founding period, around 1880, Baroque was copied, then Rococo and Biedermeier. In between, construction was carried out again and again according to the Gothic model. Elaborately carved upholstered sets, multi-part desks made from half a dozen different materials, buffets combined from Renaissance and Baroque elements were typical.

Furniture design in Art Nouveau style around 1895-1910

Artisans and architects protested the mindlessness of the imitations of style since the mid-19th century and demanded more individuality.

Typical style element: ornaments from flora and fauna

Design: coordination of material and purpose, flat, decorative, curved shapes

Jugendstil-Couch
Jugendstil-Couch

From the protest against the spiritlessness of imitations of style, more individuality developed in youth, for example in the form of patterns.

Photo: pixabay / Pixelina

This epoch was named after the magazine "Jugend", which appeared in Munich since 1896. Industrialization displaced handicrafts in the 19th century. More and more factory machines simplified the work of cabinet makers. The founders of Art Nouveau came together, demanded individual furniture design and built in their workshops. The furniture manufacturers were mostly architects. They found role models in the clarity and simple craftsmanship of medieval furniture design and created a new style in which they tried to coordinate the material and function of a piece of furniture. Although Art Nouveau was originally designed as a constructive and factual style, a rich, intricate ornamentation developed: Sometimes the whole furniture looked like an ornament. Preferred woods were mahogany, oak, walnut, pear. Softwood was used for series production. The wood was mostly not left in the natural tone, but was lacquered or stained. Typical decor: fittings made of cast iron, bronze and steel in the form of spirals, tendrils, snails, lianas, flowers (especially lilies, water lilies), elves and flowing and intertwined lines.

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