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18th Century English Furniture: History & Styles

Instructor: Amy Jackson

Amy has a BFA in Interior Design as well as 19 years teaching experience and a doctorate in education.

18th century furniture gave the world highly-finished and sophisticated designs. This lesson will focus on seven styles of 18th century furniture that reflect the individuality of the furniture makers during that time.

18th Century English Furniture: History & Styles

There are many different styles of 18th century furniture; the era represents the golden age of cabinet making. Furniture artisans were trained in the construction of sophisticated designs that are highly-finished. However, the styles during this time are widely divergent.

The 18th century styles include William and Mary, Queen Anne, Georgian, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton, and Adam. France influenced the first half of the 18th century designs while England led the second half. It saw a great deal of influence from the English cabinet makers and many of the styles overlap

William and Mary

Popular from about 1695 to 1730, William and Mary was named for King William of Orange and his queen Mary. Originally from Holland, William and Mary reigned over England and brought in a Dutch influence. New construction methods, such as dovetail joinery, allowed furniture to be lighter in construction.

Leg styles for William and Mary pieces are bold and fashioned by hand, referencing the Baroque period. Scroll feet are popular as well as ball and bun feet. While walnut and maple were widely used, the dark look of walnut is characteristic of this style. Veneers, marquetry, and lacquer finishes were introduced. Chair designs had high backs and extravagant embellishments with seats made of woven cane, rush, or upholstered in leather. Small tables designed for particular functions were also new. Tea tables, dressing tables, and Gate-leg tables were the most popular.

William and Mary armchair
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Queen Anne

Queen Anne furniture was popular from the 1720s to around 1750 and was named for Queen Anne of England. Queen Anne furniture frequently blends elements of the earlier William and Mary period with later Chippendale styles, often making it difficult to accurately date Queen Anne furniture.

The Queen Anne style is lighter and less chunky than previous styles. Highboys and lowboys are classic Queen Anne furniture. Walnut, maple, and cherry are the primary woods. Leg styles feature a cabriole, or curved leg ending in a pad foot. Fan and shell carvings embellish chair legs and cabinet fronts. Upholstered pieces are covered in damask, needle-point, or crewelwork featuring large flowers. Space saving elements such as tilt tops and hinged drop leaf tables are common.

Queen Anne Dropleaf Table
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Georgian

Georgian style lasted nearly 100 years (1714 to 1801) and is named for King George I, George II, and George III of Britain. Georgian furniture replaced walnut with mahogany as its wood of choice due to its durability.

Influenced by the art and architecture of Italy, early Georgian furniture incorporated decorative pediments, masks, and sphinxes. Three important designers are distinguished during this Golden Age of Furniture: Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton. Common pieces of furniture are side tables with marble tops, chairs with shell shaped backs, and furniture legs with fish-scale scrolls.

Georgian Sidechair
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Chippendale

Thomas Chippendale became popular after he published ''The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director,' a guide for furniture construction. The finest Chippendale pieces were made from mahogany, while less expensive furniture was made from walnut, cherry, or maple. Chairs typically had cabriole-style front legs ending in a ball and claw foot and straight back legs. They featured straight backs with a yoke shaped top and a center splat with detailed cut out designs. Settees, stools, and chairs were upholstered in fine fabrics.

Chippendale Sidechair
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Hepplewhite

From 1780-1810, the furniture styles of George Hepplewhite were popular. The Hepplewhite style harkens to the neoclassic style and often overlaps the styles of Thomas Sheraton. Much of the Hepplewhite furniture uses contrasting veneers and inlays and therefore is constructed with more than one type of wood. Mahogany was typically used for the base but satinwood and maple were also popular. Inlays and veneers were made from tulipwood, birch, and rosewood.

Hepplewhite pieces usually have straight legs that may be tapered and fluted edges that mimic the classical columns of Greece and Rome. They usually end with a rectangular spade or tapered arrow foot. Heavier pieces, such as chests and bookcases, have bracket feet.

H-stretchers, reinforcing pieces that connect the legs and form the shape of an H, are common in some chairs and sofas. The furniture is embellished with small carvings or painted designs such as swags, ribbons, feathers, urns, or trees. The shield-back chair is the best-known Hepplewhite piece. This style also popularized the sideboard and short chest of drawers.

Hepplewhite Vanity
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