Types of Furniture: Categories & Examples

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Furniture plays a big role in the comfort, aesthetics, and functionality of our living spaces, so in this lesson we're going to get to know it a bit better. We'll explore a few major categories of furniture and look at some examples within each one.

Our Furniture and Our Lives

Let's be honest: we enjoy a little comfort in our lives. Whether that means surrounding ourselves with all things fluffy, or simply knowing that all of our stuff is organized exactly as we want, we put a lot of effort into making our living spaces match our values. So, what allows us to do this? Very often, the answer is furniture, items of functional and aesthetic purpose used to modify living or work spaces. We sit on them, eat on them, sleep on them and toss stacks of paper on them at the end of the day. We don't always appreciate our furniture, but it's a big part of how we make our lives a little more comfortable.

Beds

Let's start with the furniture that's with most of us when we start our days. Throughout world history, very, very few societies have ever truly slept on the ground. From the portable mats used by nomadic societies to the lavish four-posters of the wealthiest kings, nearly all societies have some form of bedding.

Technically, a bed is a piece of furniture kind of like a platform that allows a person to lay down horizontally without touching the ground. The bed itself touches the ground, but the person is several inches to several feet higher. Most beds consist of a frame, the structure that supports the weight of the sleeper, and a mattress, a softer, cushioned piece that rests on top of the frame. This basic system has been in use since at least ancient Egypt. However, not everyone sleeps on this kind of bed. Also common throughout world history are hammocks, sleeping furniture that is suspended off the ground. Anthropologists actually classify hammocks as the most sophisticated form of bed, since neither the furniture nor the sleeper is on the ground.

The basic form of a bed has been part of human societies for a long time. This one was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun
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Chairs

From beds, let's move over to the chair, an object on which a single person sits. The most basic chairs that we see in our lives are armchairs, those which have both arms and a back. There are as many kinds of armchairs as there are styles of interior design (which are many), but most are defined by the design of the back, arms, or legs.

The Chair of King Edward is one of the most important symbols of the English monarchy
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Chairs without arms or backs are called stools. Since chairs with backs were originally a hallmark of royalty in many cultures, stools have been a way for common people to sit throughout history. In modern times, we mostly use stools for sitting at counters where full chairs wouldn't fit. An elevated stool used for this purpose is known as a barstool.

Couches

The history of furniture is basically the history of humans trying to find ways to get off their feet, so naturally our next category is couches, objects used for multi-person seating. Couches have as long a history as chairs, if not longer. The Romans used to eat on couches, and ancient Greeks even had communal seating in their tombs.

Couches have been a large, and perhaps underappreciated, part of world history
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Let's start with the most basic styles. A piece of furniture that can hold multiple people but is not upholstered is a bench. It only becomes a couch once upholstery is added. A couch without a back is generally a reclining couch of some kind, often called a chaise lounge if it has one armrest or a daybed if it has two. A couch with a back that's built for two people is a loveseat, and a full-sized couch without a back is a divan. For such a seemingly simple piece of furniture, we've actually found dozens of ways to re-imagine and redesign it.

Tables

While sitting is great, eventually we do need to do stuff. Once again, furniture comes to our rescue. Another common category of furnishings are tables, flat-topped objects elevated by legs or a base, which are used to hold things. While many use the term ''table'' as a catchall to describe all objects of this description, these furnishings are technically identified separately by their intended use. For example, a table which is meant to be used for work (be it manual labor or paperwork), is known as a desk.

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