Empire Style Furniture Designs Popular in the Early- to Mid-1800s, Antique Furniture with Roman, Greek, and Egyptian Influences. While this style was going strong in France even earlier, and the English had their Regency designs of the same influence, Empire designs didn't really take hold in the United States until about 1815. This was a continuation of earlier neoclassical styles like Hepplewhite and Sheraton, but with a much stronger influences in terms of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian ornamentation. Literally for decades, all the way through the mid-19th century, the Empire look was in fashion in America. One of the interesting aspects of Empire styles is that they were seen at all price points. The wealthy often purchased very elegant pieces while those living more modestly could more readily buy items for “cottage use,” which had plainer veneers or were painted, according to American Furniture: Tables, Chairs, Sofas and Beds by Marvin D. Schwartz (now out of print, but widely available through used booksellers).
The religious houses were an exception to this in that they enjoyed a certain security denied to the outside world. Much of the best furniture of this period was therefore made for use in churches and monasteries, and many of the ideas and developments that were later to add to the domestic comfort of Europe originated in the cloister. An example can be seen in the early development for ecclesiastical use of the various types of reading and writing furniture, such as lecterns and desks, that show ingenuity in construction. Throughout the Middle Ages and well on into the 16th and 17th centuries, all types of furniture remained scarce, and any reasonably good furniture belonged to the nobility and the wealthy merchants. The household equipment of the peasantry throughout Europe, even as late as the 18th century, was frequently crude in design and roughly constructed.
The Rococo style, a development of the Régence, affected French furniture design from about 1735 to 1765. The word is derived from rocailles, used to designate the artificial grottoes and fantastic arrangements of rocks in the garden of Versailles; the shell was one of the basic forms of Rococo ornament. The style was based on asymmetrical design, light and full of movement. The furniture of this period was designed on sinuous and complicated lines. Designs of Juste-Aurèle Meissonier, goldsmith to Louis XV, sculptor and architect, were instrumental in creating the Rococo. The repertory of ornament was large and included the C-scroll, scrolled foliage, floral motifs, ribbon, and, on occasion, trophies formed of musical instruments or gardening implements.
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