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19th Century Furniture Designers

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

During the 19th century, there was a broad range of styles in furniture designs. From Arts and Crafts to Regency, those movements were as diverse as they come - and so were the furniture designers.

Furniture Design in the 19th Century

Diversity was the norm in 19th century furniture designs and designers. Designers during this period adopted everything from traditional simplistic designs, to designs that were modeled after Greece traditional furniture, and everything in between. So during the 19th century, there were furniture designers who appealed to all tastes and social classes.

Thomas Hope

With the Amsterdam-born Thomas Hope, his approach to furniture design can in many ways be considered 'archaeological.' As a child, he spent several years traveling around the Mediterranean with his family visiting countries such as Greece, Turkey, and Egypt, which would have a profound influence on his furniture designs during the early part of the 19th century. Hope designed during the English Regency period in England, which produced furniture that didn't just adapt and refine the Mediterranean, and more specifically, Greek-style furniture. Many designs of Greek origins, such as klismos chairs, were duplicated during the English Regency period.

Thomas Hope Setee
hopesetee1

It was his book Household Furniture and Decoration that firmly established Hope as a force in design in the 19th century. He clung to historical accuracy in his furniture designs seeing the original Greek designs not only as his muse but as the template against which he evaluated his work. Over the course of his design career, he wouldn't just copy the style of the Greek and Roman furniture he saw in his travels as a youth, but would go on to become a force in bringing about Egyptian Revival furniture designs. His furniture designs were very regal, incorporating elements such as legs carved to resemble Egyptian cats or Greek columns with the brass inlays common in Regency designs.

Michael Thonet

Up to around the middle of the 19th century, furniture designs had typically revolved around cutting and carving wood. Michael Thonet, and later his sons, would bring about a revolution of sorts that stemmed from how they made furniture. Like other furniture makers, he started his career by carving furniture out of beechwood. However, unlike other designers, Thonet explored the properties of wood to the point where he determined how to bend it and use that technique in his furniture designs.

Michael Thonet Chair Designs
thonet chairs 1

Thonet's techniques were so remarkable that during his lifetime he secured two patents from the Austrian courts. The first was for his technique, and the second was for manufacturing tables and chairs using his wood-bending technique. Instead of carving wood, he could use solid rods of beechwood and apply pressure and steam, which allowed the natural resigns to become pliable. Once it was bent, it only needed to be held in place and would 'cure' in that same position. He's most well-known for his chairs that have backs formed from beechwood rods that were bent and sometimes even looped to create his designs.

Robert J. Horner

Robert J. Horner didn't have much of a background in furniture when he plunged in the furniture design business. Instead, he began his career as a clerk for a lace business. It didn't stop him, however, from setting up his furniture business in Manhattan in the late 19th century. Working during the Victorian age, His focus was fine furniture made of mahogany or quartersawn oak. The use of quartersawn oak with its straight grain pattern lent itself to well to Horner's high-end designs. His company, R.J. Horner & Co, advertised itself as having the largest range of high and medium end furniture in America, and the techniques used in the designs didn't disappoint his high-end clientele.

Horner Washstand
hornerwashstand

The designs would best be described as ornate. Whether it was dining tables or bedroom furniture, all of the designs include extensive carvings. Each set was themed and could include designs based on anything from cherubs to gargoyles and griffins. Furniture inspired by Japan became popular in the late 19th century in America, Horner didn't initially join the trend until after the panic of 1893, when he began designing furniture made of imitation bamboo. He would make items such as washstands out of maple cut to resemble bamboo, and then use a yellowish stain to achieve a bamboo-esque coloration. These designs were not intended for public areas in homes of the period, but instead areas such as private living rooms. Eventually, he would merge his company and step away to serve as director of the Garfield Bank.

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