15 British Furniture Styles You Should Know

British furniture is widely collected today for its elegant appearance and important ties to British history, culture, and taste. Styles from civilizations like ancient Greece and contemporary Japan contributed to the evolution of British furniture during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries especially, resulting in a wide array of designs and techniques.

Despite international influences, furniture pieces produced in Britain have always stood apart from their counterparts made in mainland Europe, North America, and Asia. In general, British designers and furniture makers stressed the importance of interpreting each style “correctly” and with an eye to balanced proportion and harmony.

British pieces made in the Neo-Classical style, for example, reveal a keener interest in accurately reconstructing ancient Greek and Roman furniture. On the other hand, British Rococo pieces represent a concerted attempt to produce less extravagant forms than those found in movement furniture from France or Italy. Nonetheless, there is a wide variety available in today’s market, making British furniture a coveted, customizable addition to virtually any interior space.

Popular British furniture movements and their approximate date ranges include:

  1. Elizabethan (1520–1620)
  2. Jacobean (1603–1625)
  3. Carolean/Restoration (1660–1685)
  4. William and Mary (1690–1730)
  5. Queen Anne (1702–1760)
  6. Georgian (1714–1830)
  7. Rococo (1730–1770)
  8. Gothic Revival (1740–1900)
  9. Neo-Classical (1750–1830)
  10. Regency (1762–1830)
  11. Victorian (1830–1900)
  12. Arts & Crafts (1880–1910)
  13. Art Nouveau (1880–1910)
  14. Edwardian (1901–1910)
  15. Art Deco (1920–1940)

Below, explore some of the most popular British furniture styles and movements, from the 16th to 20th centuries.

Elizabethan (1520–1620)

Geographic origin: England
Materials: oak, walnut, porcelain

While Queen Elizabeth didn’t begin her reign until 1533, this style of furniture is broadly defined as being created during the Renaissance. Around this time, furniture emerged from the Gothic era and slowly transformed to include classical influences. One key characteristic of the furniture is heavy ornamentation, especially on tables and four poster beds.

Jacobean (1603–1625)

Geographic origin: England
Materials: oak, pine, porcelain, mother-of-pearl

Left: Jacobean style needlepoint armchair, sold via Pook and Pook for $213 on September 13, 2012. Right: Jacobean Style Cabinet, offered via Sloans & Kenyon on July 25, 2009.

This era of design began when King James I inherited the crown of England from Queen Elizabeth and resulted in large, boxy furniture meant to last several generations. The furniture is known to be more practical than comfortable, using mainly oak and pine.

Carolean/Restoration (1660–1685)

Geographic origin: England
Materials: gold and silver embellishments, leather, walnut, velvet

17th century Carolean Carved Walnut Ceremonial Chair, circa 1670, offered via Sheppards on June 28, 2016.

King Charles II ascended to the throne after a period of monarchical upheaval in England, bringing with him French and Dutch Baroque inspiration from his time in exile. Furniture of the period was decorated with floral marquetry, walnut, and velvet upholstery and included carvings and gilding.

William and Mary (1690–1730)

Geographic origin: England
Materials: walnut, maple

Left: William and Mary Burl Walnut Chest, 17th century at M.S. Rau Antiques. Right: William and Mary walnut armchair, sold via Sotheby’s for $1,500 on October 17, 2015.

Also known as “Early Baroque” furniture, this was the era in which the daybed and writing desk were both invented. William of Orange appreciated French design, and its influence is felt in the decoration of the furniture. Walnut and maple were heavily used, and designs were thinner and more embellished than in previous reigns.

Queen Anne (1702–1760)

Geographic origin: England
Materials: walnut, poplar, cherry, maple

Left: Queen Anne walnut side chair, English, early 18th century, $300 – $500 via Freeman’s on July 12, 2017. Right: Queen Anne lowboy, 18h century, $400 – $700 via DuMouchelles on July 16, 2017.

Curved lines and minimal ornamentation are known characteristics of the Queen Anne style, sometimes known as “Late Baroque.” The furniture designs began to evolve during the reign of William III, but the term generally applies to pieces popular during and after Queen Anne’s reign (1702-1714). It continued to be lighter and more designed than previous eras, featuring curved shapes, cabriole legs, cushioned seats, and padded feet, but ornamentation is minimal.

Georgian (1714–1830)

Geographic origin: England
Materials: mahogany
Key designers: Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite, Robert Adam

The importation of mahogany from Central and South America led to its replacing walnut as the primary wood in furniture-making during the Georgian era. This term extends to design under Kings George I, George II, and George III. Designer Thomas Chippendale rose to prominence during the period, which was identified by straight forms with intricate low-relief ornamentation.

Rococo (1730–1770)

Geographic origin: France, Germany, Austria, Britain
Materials: mahogany, walnut, oak, ash, elm, beech, and marble inlay
Key designers: Hubert Gravelot, Thomas Johnson, and Paul de Lamerie

Left: George III Rococo pierced giltwood girandole mirror, sold for $6,000 via Ahlers & Ogletree on June 26, 2016. Right: Pair of Rococo carved walnut fauteuils, late 18th/early 18th century, $500 – $1,000 via Butterscotch Auction Gallery on July 16, 2017.

The name for this style is derived from the French word “rocaille,” meaning “shell” or “rock;” indeed, rock and broken shell motifs are defining features of the style. The Rococo aesthetic first became popular in France in the early- to mid-18th century, during which time there was a push toward asymmetrical, free-flowing designs.

Like its art, Rococo furniture was influenced by nature and characterized by playful designs including acanthus leaves, S- and C-scrolls, and decorative borders. Its elaborate decoration encourages viewers to gaze upon Rococo furniture with wandering eyes, reveling in the seemingly unbridled patterns adorning the objects. British pieces are typically more “natural-looking” than French pieces, although British furniture designers, most notably Thomas Johnson, found ways to balance the public’s taste for utility-minded construction with twisting, organic forms.

Gothic Revival (1740–1900)

Geographic origin: Britain, United States
Materials: dark woods, velvet and leather upholstery
Key designers: A.W.N. Pugin, John Ruskin, and William Burges

The rebirth of the Gothic style coincided with the resurgence of traditional Anglo-Catholic beliefs between the mid-1700s and late 19th century. Concerns about the need to return to social and religious conservatism necessitated stylistic changes that not only affected the art and architecture of the period but also drastically altered the appearance of furniture. Tables, chairs, dressers, and other pieces were carved with shapes resembling pointed arches and rose windows. Decorative elements, such as floral details, finials, heraldic motifs, and linenfold designs, frequently adorned the objects’ surfaces.

In addition to hearkening back to the religiosity and traditionalism of the Middle Ages, furniture made in the Gothic Revival style also fed into nostalgic ideas about the romance and chivalry of medieval Britain. The evolution of the style is visible in the details of Gothic Revival objects – earlier pieces are more whimsical and delicate, whereas later examples are more boldly carved and colorful.

Neo-Classical (1750–1830)

Geographic origin: France, Britain, Italy, United States
Materials: painted and gilded wood, marble inlay
Key designers: Sir William Chambers, James Stuart, Robert Adam, George Hepplewhite, and Thomas Sheraton

Neo-Classical console in hazelnut and mahogany, 18th century, €280 – €380 via Renascimento on July 11, 2017.

British Neo-Classical furniture is similar to Regency furniture, as both styles rely heavily upon influences from ancient Greece and Rome. The primary distinguishing factor is that Neo-Classical furniture is less strict in its interpretation of ancient models. British designers (Robert Adam, for example) often looked to contemporary developments in Paris and Rome when creating furniture pieces for British consumers. The objects are typically more extravagant than Regency pieces, but they still favor straight lines, twisted fluting, and classicizing motifs.  They were often made to complement a Neo-Classical interior space, resulting in an overarching aesthetic marked by clean lines, elegant forms, and sophisticated details reminiscent of ancient splendor.

Regency (1762–1830)

Geographic origin: France, Britain
Materials: mahogany, carved wood, wood veneers, paint, and metal inlay
Key designers: Thomas Hope, Thomas Sheraton, and George Smith

Left: A Regency parcel gilt side table, circa 1825, sold for £3,844 via Dreweatts & Bloomsbury on July 7, 2015. Right: Set of four Regency chairs, circa 1815. $3900 via Spurgeon Lewis Antiques.

Known in France as the French Empire style, the Regency style coincided with the reign of King George IV of Great Britain. Inspired by recent discoveries of ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts, Regency furniture is characterized by a strict interpretation of archaeological finds, or “pure forms.” Defining features of Regency furniture include flat surfaces, delicately painted and/or veneered wood, metal inlay, and classicizing motifs like rosettes, lion masks, and metal paw feet. Each piece exemplifies the harmony of utility with the pure classical forms popular in Britain at the time. Furthermore, each piece was made so it would fit seamlessly within any interior space devoted to the Regency style.

Victorian (1830–1900)

Geographic origin: England
Materials: walnut, rosewood, mahogany, velvet
Key designers: William Morris, Augustus Pugin, Christopher Dresser

Left: Victorian armchair, $675 via The Antique and Artisan Gallery. Right: Victorian brass and marble pedestal, sold for €420 via Sheppards on June 27, 2017.

Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years, during which time the Industrial Revolution enabled furniture-makers to produce furniture for the growing middle class championed by the Queen. While it encompassed many styles and designers (including the Arts & Crafts movement), Victorian furniture was often heavy and big. Styles that inspired Victorian designers include Elizabethan, Rococo, Neoclassical, and more.

Arts & Crafts (1880–1910)

Geographic origin: Japan, Britain, mainland Europe, North America
Materials: mahogany, oak wood
Key designers: John Ruskin, William Morris, Philip Webb, Arthur Mackmurdo, and Christopher Dresser

Left: Inlaid Arts & Crafts mahogany bookcase cabinet, circa 1900, sold for £2,375 via Lyon & Turnbull on October 26, 2016. Right: Shapland & Petter, Barnstaple, Arts & Crafts mahogany open bookcase, circa 1905, sold for £10,000 via Lyon & Turnbull on October 26, 2016.

The Arts and Crafts style was an international movement that pushed against the heavy industrialization of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The style, which favored a return to handcrafted artisanship and folk styles of decoration, was strongly influenced by philosophical and artistic developments in Britain. The contributions of John Ruskin and William Morris in particular were paramount and led to a greater appreciation for manual construction and the creative act of design.

British furniture made in the Arts and Crafts style typically featured rectilinear and angular forms and pared down, stylized motifs evocative of medieval, Islamic, and Japanese design. Developments closer to England also played an important role, with Irish furniture makers emphasizing the significance of sophisticated, hand-carved designs. In Scotland, influential figures such as Christopher Dresser contributed to the flowering of the Glasgow style, which incorporated elements of the Celtic Revival into the Arts and Crafts movement.

Art Nouveau (1880–1910)

Geographic origin: Britain, mainland Europe, United States
Materials: dark woods, stained glass, abalone, varnishes and veneers
Key designers: Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Arthur Mackmurdo, Aubrey Beardsley, Archibald Knox, and Arthur Silver

Left: Art Nouveau carved fruitwood fire surround, sold for $30,000 via Sotheby’s on December 14, 2016. Right: Art Nouveau period mahogany and marquetry leaded glass paneled display cabinet, offered via Sheppards on September 1, 2015.

Art Nouveau developed in Europe alongside the Arts & Crafts movement. While the two styles have much in common, like an interest in organic forms and handmade artisanship, Art Nouveau was considered more luxurious and decorative. This is due in large part to the influence of Chinese, Persian, and other Eastern styles, which contributed to the exotic yet refined decoration of Art Nouveau.

In London, the popularity of the Liberty Department, which made shopping for furniture appealing and accessible to consumers, reflected growing demands to fill entire interiors with Art Nouveau pieces. Furniture made in this style varies significantly, although common features include elongated and curvy lines, stylized flowers and other organic forms, dark woods, and eye-catching decorative materials, such as semi-precious stones, stained glass, reflective shells, and gold leaf.

Edwardian (1901–1910)

Geographic origin: England
Materials: bamboo, wicker
Key designers: Thomas Sheraton

Left: Edwardian eight-light chandelier, circa 1900, on offer for $1,500 via Spurgeon Lewis Antiques. Right: Edwardian Hepplewhite style sofa, circa 1910, on offer for $2,400 via Spurgeon Lewis Antiques.

Along with a new ruler, the Edwardian era ushered in new trends in design. While the Victorian era featured heavy, dark furniture, Edwardian furniture shifted to light or pastel colors and floral designs.

Art Deco (1920–1940)

Geographic origin: France, Europe
Materials: stainless steel, walnut, maple, wrought-iron, glass, ivory, mother of pearl

English Art Deco sideboard, sold for €300 via Marques dos Santos on April 9, 2014.

Art Deco began in Paris in the 1920s and quickly spread across Europe. Its use in England was limited but notable, as the style’s distinct geometrical lines and decorative flourishes make pieces immediately recognizable.


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