What is Traditional Furniture?
Traditional furniture depends on who you are asking in what country. If you asked the common person, they would probably say that traditional furniture is dependent on where you grew up, your perceptions of “traditional,” and that bit of nostalgia that you feel when you see your grandmother’s country worn furniture that she’s had seemingly forever. Traditional furniture will last throughout the trendiest of décor fads and a good piece of furniture is handcrafted.
With trends, something always comes back into fashion and this is why so many people want the look of traditional furniture back in their living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms. “Traditional” emits thoughts of well-made, well-established furniture that will last throughout a life time and possibly beyond.
So let’s look at some furniture from three different countries. England, Germany, and France; no doubt three of the most influential countries that have pioneered traditional European furniture and continue to churn out new reproductions. All three countries have been influenced by each other’s styles and a blending of techniques is found in all categories of the furniture, however, there are distinct qualities that show a buyer or collector that a style is traditionally English, German, or French.
The Golden Era of English Furniture dates back to the late 17th to early 18th century where Mahogany timbers shipped over from the West Indies preferred wood for the solid wood furniture that was made in this era; however, Walnut was still a popular choice, but nearly always second choice. English furniture was pioneered by the likes of Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite, and Thomas Sheraton. It is their designs that today have become synonymous with traditional furniture in England.
Their selection of materials, methods of production, and high quality manufacturing ensure that the dark Mahogany timbers were painstakingly hand carved and well-built. Although designed to be solid, there were very few square edges; preferring the delicate curvature of table and chair legs or intricately detailed chair backs to offer that extra grandeur that made this the style of choice for the upper class.
English furniture appears to be more refined than French furniture, but less robust than German furniture. Fast forward 200 hundred years and these styles are still in place. It may get replaced every few years by contemporary, minimal details with square edges, but no matter how old it gets, it is still timeless.
German furniture is often an amalgam of styles from different countries depending on the time period. Categorizing German furniture is a bit harder than categorizing traditional English and French furniture. What can be said is that traditional German furniture is sturdy and robust. Often used were woods like Walnut, Mahogany, Fruitwood, or any of the variety of woods that are plentiful in Germany.
While earlier influences on German furniture were in the French style, the typical style that is now associated with German furniture is generally bigger and less ornate. For example, large “schranks” painted with country scenes or folk art are dead giveaways for German furniture from Bavaria. Tables, dressers, and trunks, are heavy and evoke straight lines of the Biedermeier period.
Popular German furniture makers of the time were Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Abraham and his son David Roentgen who displayed both earlier German and later German styles, and a little more recently, Walter Gropius and Richard Neutra.
Today, if one looks at Pennsylvania Dutch furniture, though an American style associated with the Amish community, it is directly influenced by Germany and continues the tradition of sturdy, well-made furniture.
|Bavarian Schrank (bavarianfurniture.ca)|
There is no mistake; traditional French furniture is probably the easiest to define or spot at an antique or flea market. The curving, graceful lines of their settees, headboards, and armoires are designs that people identify as unequivocally French. Many of these styles were associated with high culture and status in France.
When I think of French furniture it conjures images of furniture from the Louis periods; Louis XIV (Baroque), Louis XV (Rococo), and Louis XVI (Neo Classical), with Rococo style being the most grandiose and extravagant of them all. Rococo designs were asymmetrical and curvy, often with a cabriole leg and gilding over wood.
Pioneer furniture designers of these periods were Jean Berain, Jean Francois Oeben (and it is worth noting that Thomas Chippendale had a great influence on Rococo interior), and Jacob Georges. Woods that were often used were Walnut, Mahogany, Maple, and Pine.
Many people, not just the serious collector, are now captivated by what is essentially painted furniture in the style of “Shabby Chic.” This is a new type of interior design that has only been established from the 1990’s on. The movement is interesting because it is said to have begun in Britain, but much of the painted furniture is in the French style with a diluted and pale pallet of pastel colors. Followers of this style don’t just paint antiques, they also paint distressed or even new furniture to either make new items look old or old items look new again.
|Shabby Chic (homedit.com)|
What is your favorite style?
Remember, England, Germany, and France have often borrowed each other’s styles and the furniture style as a result is dependent on the time period that is being visited. However, we can pick out distinct characteristics of each country that define their own unique style. Many genuine period antiques are either in museums or are too expensive for the average collector, however, there are many revival and reproduction pieces that are beautiful in their own right and can satisfy an avid collector to general hobbyist.
When it comes to traditional English, German, or French furniture, what is your favorite type? Or do you prefer the more modern spinoff styles that have been influenced by England, Germany, and France?
Written by Brittany Ruth of TheRococoRoamer.blogspot.com
*Contributions: Michael Price (England section)
**Sources: Forrest, Tim. The Bulfinch anatomy of antique furniture: an illustrated guide to identifying period, detail, and design. Boston: Little, Brown, 1996. Print.
***Links: www.Charlesbarr.com , www.padutchcountry.com, www.elitechoice.org, www.bavarianfurniture.ca, www.galerversailles.com, www.homedit.com.