Can’t distinguish your Chippendale from your Hepplewhite? So it’s time to explore the subtle revealing differences in major British furniture styles. Born in the 17th and 18th centuries, traditional English furniture design has remained popular in today’s traditional furnishings. But the genre of English design can actually be divided into seven distinct styles. So, before going to mix the cabriole legs with the inlay, let’s take a minute to make things clear.
The Adam Brothers, who were Scottish brothers born in the 1720s and 30s, were actually professional architects. While John and James remained in the background, designing furniture, their brother Robert continued to study classical design in Rome. He returned to England and eventually established a furniture manufacturing facility for the family business.
Due to his time spent studying classical design in Italy, his architecture and furniture took on a distinct Greek-Roman flavor and became one of the footholds of the period of the classic revival in England. The hallmarks of the Adam brothers’ furniture are its delicate staircase and elaborate details. The upholstery colors were particularly trendy in opaque blue, pale yellow-green, lavender and light gray.
Chippendale is another famous name in traditional English furniture. Born in 1718, Thomas Chippendale was one of the most practical furniture designers and made some of his pieces by hand. The Chippendale style is known for its large size and is considered more masculine than the curved pieces of Queen Anne – Hepplewhite and Sheraton seem lighter than Chippendale. The backs of the chairs were open and show Gothic influences in their designs.
The Georgian era of design is named after England’s King George. Influenced by the classical styles of Greece and Rome, the Georgian style is heavy in proportions and details.
The Hepplewhite style is named after George Hepplewhite, a professional furniture maker, but there are no pieces known by Hepplewhite or his business. However, Hepplewhite has created a distinctive style with its distinctive shield-backed chair. The shape is still seen in modern furniture design.
Queen Anne’s style takes its name from the English monarch who reigned from 1702 to 1714. Although she did not design the furniture for which she is homonymous, she influenced her style. The style of the furniture features sinuous lines and oriental influence. It is best known for its cabriole leg, which has distinct generous curves that often end in a ball or claw. One of three great British furniture designers, Thomas Sheraton created a more delicately scaled-down style that featured neoclassical elements and motifs.
The last major period of English influence in furniture design was the Victorian era, which lasted from 1837 until the queen’s death in 1901. Victorian furniture is characterized by the decorative excess of the era, which incorporates nostalgic elements of Gothic design , Renaissance, Moorish and Oriental.
All these designers and periods have influenced the English furniture design which we now group together as “traditional” furniture design. But now you know there are subtle and not so subtle differences between them. And that your mother’s Duncan Phyfe table isn’t the only example of traditional English furniture.