Furniture has accompanied the evolution of humankind since the dawn of civilization. It’s no wonder why there’s a current revival of antiques and vintage furniture pieces; they transport us several centuries back and offer us a glimpse into the habits and artistic codes of a particular era. Now, whether you’re looking for ideas to furnish a new home, or are simply curious to learn more on the topic, here’s a brief chronological guide that will take you through the evolution of furniture over time.
The Neolithic Era
One of the first recorded instances of furniture-making dates back to 3000-2500 BC when humans began adopting a sedentary lifestyle and building homes. In the Orkney Islands of Scotland, excavations uncovered the presence of stone huts, inside which were stone furniture such as beds, chairs, cupboards, dressers, and shelves. Inhabitants of the island used stone since wood wasn’t readily available to craft household items.
Ancient Egyptian and Greek
Meanwhile, in the 2nd millennium BC, the land of the Pharaohs was at its apogee. Wealthy notables occupied lavish and spacious homes boasting a wide range of wooden furniture, including chairs, tables, and beds. And while practical metal storage trunks still weren’t a thing, then storage chests were typically made from wood as well. Today, both wooden and metal trunks are very popular storage options in modern households.
On the other side of the Mediterranean, Greek furniture was largely influenced by their Egyptian counterparts. Pieces were rectangular, stiff, sometimes described as ‘unflattering’. Starting in the 4th century, though, the Greeks had developed their own style with more flow curves and less rigid pieces.
The Middle Ages
From the 5th until the 15th century, medieval Europe was in a pretty dark place. Turf wars and political disputes rhythmed life of the Old Continent, which invariably reflected in the distinctive style of furniture. Medieval furniture used dark colors, mostly black, grey, and also beige. They often had grand, gaudy structures and were made with wood and ornamented with elaborate carvings. The linear designs (square, rectangular, octagonal) were a symbol of power and sturdiness.
The Renaissance Period
Things took a turn in late 14th-century Italy with the Renaissance (literally ‘rebirth’), marking a clear shift in art and furniture design. Quickly followed by the rest of Europe, the Renaissance style is characterized by opulent, and gilded designs that were meant to showcase the expertise of craft-makers and satisfy the bourgeois class. Often seen with wooden carvings and floral embellishments, the Renaissance clearly revolutionized the art and craft of furniture-making.
As the epitome of classicism, rococo is a style that developed in the 18th century all over Europe. These furniture designs were characterized by rich, sophisticated pieces with great ornamentations destined to show the wealth of their patrons. Rococo encompasses a large array of furniture styles, from French Louis XV to the British Palladianism and American style. Pieces began to be mass-produced during that time with the sophistication of technology.
The Industrial Revolution
Speaking of which, the industrial revolution of the 19th century marked yet another civilizational advancement. With technological advances in production methods and transportation, urbanization, and the thriving of the capitalist model, furniture became extremely detailed, artistic, thus reflecting the tastes and habits of privileged classes. The furniture remained quite basic and sparse for the populace.
From the late 19th and early 20th centuries onward, humanity ushered in a new phase of furniture design. Artists and crafts makers distance themselves from grandiose, overexaggerated designs, and began to focus on the practical aspects of furniture (chairs, tables, beds, cupboards, and more). This is notably embodied in the Bauhaus movement in Germany and French Art Déco styles, which both emerged after World War I. The furniture features clean, minimal, and elegant lines.
Last but certainly not least, the contemporary style refers to all furniture designs after the 1970s. Rather than emphasize on traditional wood, contemporary pieces are characterized by the use of aluminum, iron, and other materials to play with shapes and create sleek, geometric designs. Glass is largely featured in the iconic coffee table as well. Recent trends also incorporate green and sustainable materials in furniture making.
In many ways, it’s fair to assume that the development of furniture styles across the eras mirrors the development of humanity as a whole. In periods of peace and prosperity or through times of war and hardship, people have always paid close attention to the way they design, furnish, and decorate their homes. Evidently, the 20th century will bring with it its own distinctive style, so we may be in for some surprises in the near future!