8 February 2018

A guide to French furniture styles through the ages

Antique French furniture

Antique French furniture has varied hugely throughout history. Here is a guide to the periods from which our French antiques derive…

Louis XIII (1590–1660)
The French furniture from this era had a very architectural appeal with a geometric appearance and thick, heavy decoration. Cherubs, scrolls, fruit and flowers were amongst the recurring decorative themes. The French country furniture was very much in demand with the emerging middle class. The furniture was comfortable yet beautiful. Craftsman worked with oak and walnut in the beginning and later ebony. Metals such as pewter and copper were also used.

Louis XIV (1660–1715)
The commode appeared somewhere during the end of 17th century and was quite fashionable. The range of chairs was varied and there were options right from the high backed padded armchairs to stool. Stools and benches were seen covered in velvet, silk, damask, and gold brocade and the chairs and settees were also quite elaborate. Mirrors, chandelier, candelabra were very in vogue. Materials used included sculptured, veneered chestnut, walnut, oak, ebony, brass, pewter, silver, tortoise-shell, mother-of-pearl, wood included precious woods, pear and natural woods were used in the provinces. Faces of gods, bearded fauns, nymphs, goddesses, allegories, arabesques, cornucopia, foliage abounded were some of the common features. Notable motifs on the furniture items included the royal emblem (the sun) and the fleur-de-lis.

Régence (1715–1730)
This period saw a rise in the apartment system of accommodation. Apartments during this period were quite lavish by today’s standards. The apartment style introuced an era of furniture that was lighter and graceful. Typical features included asymmetrical curved lines and simple wood veneer. The introduction of the cabriole leg is attributed to this period. This carved ‘S’ shaped leg was a common feature in armoires, bookcases, desks, sofas, and chairs.Louis XV (1730–1770): Curved lines were famous and the furniture more practical yet elegant. Chiffoniers, card tables, dressing tables, and roll-top desks etc came into being too. Exotic themes, female faces, flowers, shells, doves, foliage, fish, birds, vines, hearts, ribbons and dolphins were common decorative features of the period.

Louis XVI (1770–1789)
Symmetry, straight lines and classical ornamentation were in fashion. The use of mahogany was common and straight, tapered and fluted legs were preferred. Commodes and buffets became more angular and chairs came in a variety of styles which were more decorative than comfortable.

A wonderful example of French antique furniture is this Late Louis XVI Mahogany Tric-Trac Table. This is a fine quality mahogany and brass tric-trac table with its original leather and baize-lined top, the interior inlaid with ebony and ivory, on stop-fluted tapering legs, France, circa 1790. Height to bottom of apron is 55cm.

Directoire (1789–1805)
The Directoire period saw more of a subdued style with patterns that were less extravagant. Motifs included arabesque and Etruscan themes, wreaths, torches, and other warlike emblems. As for the materials used, brass was a common feature and wood options included walnut and other fruitwoods which could be found in France.

Empire (1805–1815)
The Empire style of furniture in France saw the use of Neoclassical motifs from the preceding eras but in a more elegant and opulent manner. Furniture designs were consistent with symmetrical ornamentation and large, solid forms.

Restoration (1815–1830)
This era saw a return of luxury and opulence and there was a distinct shift to delicate, rounded forms, and fine decoration in furniture. Lighter woods such as elm and ash were common. Popular motifs included cornucopias, floral bouquets, and ribbons etc.

Louis Philippe (1830–1850)
Furniture in this era showcased softer and sparser designs with simple rounded lines. Most pieces were curvilinear, and coil spring upholstery was popularized. Walnut and mahogany were often used and tables and commodes often had marble tops.

Napoleon III (Second Empire) (1848–1880)
Whimsical shapes, dark woods, ebonized woods, cast iron, paper maché, ivory inlay and mother of pearl were common. Nesting tables, guéridons or center foot tables appeared for the first time. Floating chairs, ottomans, poufs were introduced with thickly padded and tufted upholstery, decorative tassels, braids and skirts.

Art Nouveau
This era was a response to the Industrial Revolution and the advancements in manufacturing mass-produced furniture. Designers were focused on individual craftsmanship and harmony and furniture tended to be highly-stylized, with flowing curvilinear forms, asymmetrical shapes and plant motifs that were highly decorative.

Art Deco
This style featured strong geometric designs. Woods used included rosewood, teak, and mahogany along with veneers, lacquers and high French polish, plastic, Lucite and metal. Chairs of this style period were comfortable with deep seats, upholstered in fabrics or leather. Tables were round, oval or rectangular and many new table forms came into being such as the coffee table, tea table, and other small side tables.

Browse here to see our selection of French antique furniture