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 Furniture from the second half of the 19th century up to the period of time of the First World War was not as innovative from a technical standpoint as that from the first half of the 19th century. There was essentially a rebellion against innovations in furniture construction and a desire to return to simplicity in design and construction. Art Nouveau furniture presented new ideas at a time when factory production on a large scale was eminent. This furniture style developed new designs which were not derivatives of historical styles. Popularity of this style peaked around 1900. Arts and Crafts furniture emphasized simple, utilitarian design; a reduction of excessive decoration; use of traditional materials; and the employment of "honest" craftsmanship. The Arts and Crafts movement rejected the industrialization of furniture manufacture. Arts and Crafts furniture was very popular in the United States. Mission furniture was inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and designed by American furniture designer, Gustav Stickley. Another important American designer of furniture and architect of this time period was Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright's furniture designs reflected his ideas in architecture and often designed furniture specifically for the buildings of his design.


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Cabinet designed by Hector Guimard in 1900. The design is of Japanese influenced Art Nouveau. (Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris)

Oak settle designed by Gustav Stickley and made in New York in about 1908. Furniture designers of this type drew criticism as lacking imagination. (Art Institute of Chicago)




  Art Deco furniture began before the First World War as a reaction against Art Nouveau. Art Deco furniture is characterized by limited use of ornament, simple shapes, emphasis of fine craftsmanship and use of precious and exotic materials. Genuine Art Deco furniture was very expensive and afforded only by the wealthy. Following the Wall Street crash of 1929 the International style was developed in efforts to help make furniture more affordable. International style was influenced by the importance of utility, industrial process, and materials. Once the effects of the depression had eased, American Moderne furniture gained popularity in the United States. It was characterized by sleek, shiney surfaces, bold shapes with curving elements contrasting with straight lines and the look of polished metal.


Above: Art Deco commode in shagreen and ebony designed by Paul Iribe (Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris)

Right: Sette by Jean-Michel Frank in 1936 inspired by a portrait of Mae West. (Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery & Museums, Brighton)





 The furniture industry was effected drastically in Europe by World War II. Utility furniture was introduced in Britain due to material shortages during the war. It was generally made of oak or mahogany and well built. The American furniture industry was effected little, if any by the war. American designs were inspired by the latest technology and materials. In addition to metal and plywood, fiberglass and plastics were being used in furniture. Furniture of the 50's and 60's were pure statements of form and technology. Scandinavian and Italian designed furniture was also popular and known for its quality. Pop Art furniture was a trend in the 60's which used oddity, amusement and satire which reflected the social and political upheaval of the time.

While some furniture types have lasted only a few decades, others have reoccurred throughout history. Hopefully, this brief virtual history of furniture may help guide your decision in your future purchase of new or antique furniture or possibly even inspire your next project of your own design.


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Sacco or bean bag chair, Italy, 1968. Made of synthetic leather filled with polystyrene beads.

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