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History Of Furniture



  Furniture has existed throughout history for many reasons. Obviously, the first is that of function and practicality. Chairs were designed to be sat upon; tables and stands for putting things on; beds and couches to rest upon; chests and wardrobes to store things in. Historians contend that furniture also played a very important role in indicating ones social status. Comfort and practicality often took a backseat to form and beauty. Only within the last century has technology had a drastic effect on furniture making techniques and even materials than ever before. Everyone has their favorite piece of furniture. Your choice may be inspired by form, function, comfort, craftsmanship, price tag or a combination of any of these. This virtual history of furniture is intended to help provide a basis for your appreciation of furniture.

Be sure to pay attention to the images and their captions throughout this site. After finishing this virtual peek into the history of furniture, complete the quiz that follows and click the submit button to send it to your instructor. Good luck and enjoy!





History Of Furniture 

Prehistoric Stone House at Skara Brae, Orkney Scotland with built-in benches and sleeping places. Furniture: a Concise History, Edward Lucie-Smith, Oxford University Press, New York and Toronto, 1979
  Very few examples of furniture from ancient Egypt, Western Asia, Greece, Rome and prehistoric times have survived to be studied. Articles which have survived have been preserved in the tombs of kings and high dignitaries. Native woods used for furniture of this age included acacia, sycamore-fig, tamarisk and sidder. Some imported woods like cedar, cypress, juniper and ebony were also used. Other materials used for ancient furniture included stone, ivory and precious metals like gold for inlaying. The x-framed folding stool was a very popular design which is used even today. To the right is the Golden Throne of Tutankhamen discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. (Cairo Museum)




Middle Ages

  Sir Norm
and Ye Old
Yankee Workshop?


Nope, it's a Mid-fifteenth century master-carver's workshop. Check out the hand-carved linen fold panel inserts! (Ecole des Beax Arts, Paris)



Throne of Dagobert, about seventh century A.D. Notice the x-framed design. Furniture: a Concise History, Edward Lucie-Smith, Oxford University Press, New York and Toronto, 1979

 Furniture of this time reflected that of a nomadic culture. Wealthy land owners and nobles never lived long in one place. They traveled constantly throughout their domains which discouraged bulky household goods. Anything left behind one of many dwellings was either built-in or very large and difficult to move to deter thieves. Furniture was designed with mobility in mind and usually could be disassembled. The chest was the most widespread article of domestic furniture. It was used for transporting goods and then storing them once the destination had been reached. Three legged stools, trestle tables and benches were also popular. Joinery methods included mortise and tenon, dovetail and tongue and groove joints. Primary material used for furniture of this time was predominately oak but pine was also used.


Medieval Spanish iron-bound chest. The rounded top helped to shed water to keep contents dry during a move. Furniture: a Concise History, Edward Lucie-Smith, Oxford University Press, New York and Toronto, 1979




Some important changes in furniture construction took place in the sixteenth century. Panel and frame construction allowed for lighter furniture which was easier to move. This caused a separation from the methods of the turners and carpenters and a joiners guild formed that helped set the standards of quality furniture making. Oak was still used but was beginning to be replaced near the end of this century by walnut as it had a finer grain making it easier for carving. Carving was largely the favored method of decorating furniture. The chest of drawers and upholstered furniture were also introduced late in the 16th century.


French cabinet made in about 1550 in carved walnut with marble inlay. Column and arch design incorporated into this design was inspired by architecture and very common for furniture of this time period.

 History Of Furniture

Canopy bed made in sixteenth century. Notice the elaborately carved headboard and finials on top of the bed posts. The bedding and draperies were often considered more valuable than the furniture itself.



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