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Furniture Designers

History

The oldest furniture still intact today is Egyptian, from the fourth to the sixth dynasties (about 2680–2255 B.C.). Many of the construction techniques used by Egyptian craftsworkers are still used commonly today. Larger pieces, such as tables and chairs, were built using mortise-and-tenon joinery, and small chests and boxes were dovetailed together. Artisans in this period used design elements that recur throughout history, such as carving table and chair legs designed in the likeness of animal legs.

During every period in history from early Egyptian times until now, design has ranged from the simple and purely functional to the ornate and intricately crafted. However, civilization has tended to preserve furniture that is more intricate or valuable. From a historical point of view, this is fortunate. Ornate craftwork tells more about a period than simple design does because it evolves to reflect changing artistic concepts and fashions. On the other hand, if you compared a simple farmer's table from 1700 B.C. with a farmer's table from 1700 A.D., you would probably find more similarities than differences.

Evidence of design and construction practices in some cultures is mostly limited to what we can observe in surviving paintings, sculpture, mosaics, and other graphic representations. Not many actual pieces remain from the Mesopotamians, the Minoans (of the Aegean Islands), the ancient Greeks, or from the Byzantine era (the mid- to late centuries of the first millennium A.D.).

In most cultures, artisans have tended to build furniture to mirror elements and styles of architecture. In 15th-century Gothic design, architectural themes such as arches, line tracery, columns, and leaf patterns began to appear in furniture. During the French Renaissance, the architectural style of Jacques du Cerceau, which featured intricate patterns made up of classical elements, was translated into furniture design. From the 1890s until 1910, European architects and artisans inspired by the Art Nouveau movement infused their work with suggestions of shapes in nature and an impression of movement. The Belgian architects Henri van de Velde and Victor Horta created furnishings that echoed the organic curvature prominent in the buildings they designed.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, a wave of revivalism unearthed earlier styles of design. In the mid-1700s, designers in Europe (notably, England and France) began using ancient Greek and Roman ideas, giving rise to Neoclassicism. During this time, artisans used basic geometric shapes in furniture. Surfaces were often variations of the circle or the square, and legs were built with unbroken, tapering lines. Ornaments often contained style elements seen in Greco-Roman columns. Later, in the mid-1800s, the Gothic revival saw the return of Gothic architectural themes in furniture design (e.g., pointed arches, columns, and "linenfold," an ornamental carving style mimicking the folds of hanging fabric). In the 1860s, Renaissance revival brought back pieces built with straight lines and decorated with inlaid patterns.

During most of the history of furniture design, each period has been characterized by a single or very few styles and designers (for example, Gustav Stickley was famous in the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries). Things are very different today. Designers employ hundreds of styles, from the antique to the high tech. Some of the best designers draw from multiple influences in creating their work.

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