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Everything you ever needed to know about French furniture (and buying it from Out There Interiors).
Introduction to our big French furniture guide
When sitting down to write this guide I thought it best to do some research. Any nobody (like me) with half decent English skills can sit down and bosh out a mediocre essay about French furniture and upload it onto their website for selfish marketing purposes, and although there is a certain amount of marketing going on here, I was also genuinely interested in this type of furniture, and hoped to learn something at the same as passing on that knowledge to you, the reader.
If you’re on this page you’re interested in French furniture. Maybe you’ve only just discovered that the type of furniture you’re interested in was influenced by French design, or maybe you are an expert or enthusiast searching for an Antique and have accidentally ended up on a shiny ecommerce website which sells pretty reproductions – apologies to you.
Although you’re probably on this page because you’re interested in buying something pretty for your home, it’s always good to learn something. I have therefore written this guide, not only to boost my search engine rankings for the term French furniture, but also to provide some really interesting facts about the history of the style in general, hopefully written in a not-too-painful way.
What you’ll get out of this guide
Unless of course you are a French furniture enthusiast already (in which case you’ll no doubt sniff disapprovingly before closing this webpage) you stand to gain some interesting knowledge about the history of this furniture from the guide. I discuss (in an accessible amount of detail) who and what influenced furniture designs, and how to recognise the various types of French furniture in antique shops, along with understanding the origins of reproduction French furniture displayed on websites like mine.
If you’re more interested in buying than learning (my kind of customer!) then you’re probably much more interested in the practical aspect of this guide. You can skip through the history below and dive straight into the quality, colour and design aspects of our furniture, which I discuss towards the end.
The history of French Furniture
Right let’s get stuck into the history side of things...
I’m reminded of a scene in the film The Devil Wears Prada, where the ruthless Miranda Priestly (brilliant played by Meryl Steep), tears into her young apprentice over the ‘lumpy blue sweater’ she is wearing that morning. Through the devastating monologue Miranda exposes the influence her beloved fashion industry had on the sweater, beginning with the very particular shade of blue and how it was passed down from designer to catwalk, to brand, to high-street and eventually ‘ fished out of some clearance bin’ by her assistant.
Although modern reproductions of French furniture should never be thought of in the same light as a clearance bin piece of clothing, the concept of handed down designs is pertinent. Like the Devil Wears Prada example, the smallest details on the reproduction furniture we see today will have their origins in a certain era of French history. In order for this guide to be relevant to the furniture I feature on Out There Interiors, I will focus primarily on the following periods in history:
• Louis XIV 1649 – 1714
• Regency 1714 – 1727
• Louis XV 1727 – 1760
• Louis XV1 1760 – 1795
I will then, to give a more depth to the guide discuss the following periods briefly:
• Directoire 1795 – 1804
• Empire 1804 – 1814
• Restoration 1814 – 1830
• Louis Philippe 1830 – 1848
• Reproduction 1848 – 1870
Louis XIV and Baroque Furniture 1649 – 1714
Although an explosion of design and culture began in Northern Europe in the 15th Century, the furniture designed in the Renaissance period from 1515 – 1610 and the reign of Louis XIII (1610 – 1643) have had less influence on today’s popular furniture, including antiques. The furniture of this era tended to be large and square in shape with coarse ornamentation. It lacked the flair of the proceeding years and I have therefore started my furniture timeline in 1649 in the era of King Louis XIV and the birth of Baroque Furniture.
Baroque furniture is considered by many to be the most magnificent style of French furniture. It was an age of great wealth and majesty, and many vast, ornate pieces of furniture were manufactured which were well suited to the palaces they adorned. In 1660 Louis XIV assumed the name ‘Le Grand Monarque’ and became a highly influential and powerful ruler. He, along with Jean Baptiste Colbert (Minister of Finance and later Prime Minister) was an ambassador for the arts, and as a result grand French furniture manufacturers thrived during his reign. The most recognised furniture manufacturer of this time is Andre Charles Boulle who was King Louis’s personal cabinet maker. His highly decorative furniture perfectly embodies the pomp and splendour of the Baroque period.
Furniture of the Louis XIV era has enjoyed less popularity than some of the later styles which are more accessible for today’s modern homes, however baroque furniture does have its place in modern interior design, and tends to be favoured by those who go for the full on French furniture experience, favouring opulent, highly decorative rooms rich in textiles and ornamentation.
At the time of writing, Out There Interiors is sadly lacking in Baroque Influenced furniture, however we do have some fabulous pieces in the pipeline, including a range of highly decorative, bedroom furniture; so watch this space.
Regency Furniture 1715-1723
After the death of Louis XIV a chap called Phillippe Duke of Oleans took the throne whilst Louis XV was in his infancy. This short period in history saw the birth of Regency furniture which is a particular favourite amongst antique enthusiasts and dealers. Regency furniture was still in keeping with the highly decorative Baroque furniture but characterised by more fluid, natural motifs and carvings which were assymetrical in design. A noted Regency furniture designer was Juste Aurele Meissonnier, whose organic style carvings inspired metalworkers who in turn, created some of the most impressive and recognised pieces of regency decor, such as gilt clocks, candelabras and mounts.
Rococo Furniture and Louis XV 1723 – 1774
By 1723 Louis XV was ready to reign, and the extremely ornate Baroque furniture of the earlier years became increasingly less popular. In the Louis XV period Baroque and Regency furniture was replaced by what is commonly referred to as Rococo furniture (or sometimes Roccoco furniture). This period in French history is acknowledged by many as the peak of furniture design, and as a result original Rococo furniture designs underwent many reinventions throughout the preceding centuries.
The most recognisable traits of Rococo furniture are very precise decorative accents, asymmetry of detail and specific ornate decoration such as plant, flower and shell motifs. The use of C-shaped and S-shaped scrolls is also widely apparent in Rococo furniture.
During the Louis XV’s reign the middle-classes in France thrived, and this increased furniture production greatly. A huge number of new pieces of furniture where introduced around the middle of the 18th century as more importance was placed upon elements like comfort and practicality. Smaller furniture such as armchairs, tables and footstools were introduced and matched together in the fashionable Rococo style. Parisian guild members were required to engrave or stamp their names on the furniture they produced, which is good to know if you’re looking for antique furniture of this period.
The emphasis on art and design during the reign of Louis XV owed a lot to his mistress Madame De Pompadour, who amongst others was given an apartment at the palace of Versailles. Her passion for fine art and porcelain in particular, were instrumental in the production of many fine piece of Rococo furniture. However in the mid to late eighteenth century her passion for Rococo furniture wavered as she (like many others) became interested in Roman and Greek history. By the time Louis XVI took the throne in 1774, a new fashion of furniture had begun.
Before moving on to the Neo Classical period, I’ll touch on what Out There Interiors have in the way of reproduction Rococo furniture. Although it’s difficult to tell exactly what era our pieces have been influenced (remember the lumpy blue sweater?) many elements have been handed down, and are visible in our reproduction furniture. For example the asymmetry of the Regency and Rococo period is visible in the detail of our black bed ‘Chloe-Anne’. For an interesting comparison, see the difference between the carving on this bed and the bed ‘Lily-Rose’ from the Baroque period. The Armoire Katy-May is gloriously Rococo, along with bedside table Cara-Sue and Rococo side chair Sarah-Jo. (Notice the asymmetry in the back of the chair)?
There is no doubt that Rococo furniture is one of the most popular in today’s interior design. It is curvaceous, fanciful and lavish and enjoyed by many enthusiasts. In modern times it has become fashionable to mix contemporary design with antique (or reproduction) French furniture, creating an eclectic individual style. I personally love this way of decorating, and for me Rococo furniture is used best when mixed with mirrored furniture, vintage pieces and contemporary art. Having said this, I am often in awe of rooms put together with corresponding furniture. They give a feeling of great luxury, style and comfort.
Neo-Classical French furniture and Louis XVI 1774 – 1792
Commodity stays but fashions always die, and reign of Louis XVI and the birth of Neo-Classical furniture is the most interesting example of fashion change in French furniture history. The change in taste was due to the discoveries of the ancient Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were buried and lost for 1500 years after the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The discovery provided an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire, and revealed somewhat of the character of the interiors and furniture of ancient Rome and Greece. These discoveries fascinated the French and shortly after Neo-Classical furniture came to dominate the world of French furniture.
Neo-classical furniture is almost the exact opposite of the previous Baroque and Rococo styles, which makes it the most obvious to spot. In complete contrast to the curvy, ornamentation and flair of previous furniture styles, the emphasis was suddenly put on straight, logical and serious designs. The classic Greek and Roman motifs of wreaths, bands, columns and laurel leafs were used, in an attempt to imitate the architecture of the Roman Empire.
Queen Marie Antoinette who became the wife of Louis 16th had a great deal of influence on the furniture of this period, and commissioned many small pieces of furniture for her apartment at Versailles. Unfortunately however, the revolution of 1789 saw the downfall of Louis XVI, the declining popularity followed by execution of Marie Antoinette, and the inevitable loss of dominant French furniture.
As mentioned above Neo-classical furniture is the most fun to spot as it is the most obvious. At the time of writing Out There Interiors is not selling any very typical Neo-Classical furniture as it is less in keeping with our style, however we can supply many reproductions in this style, so if you are interested in this period of history please contact us for some very typical recreations. At the time of writing the closest Neo-Classical item of furniture we sell is the silver bedside table called Diane. Although the curved legs are not typical of Neo-Classical furniture the square design of the drawers is more representative of this period. Below are a few more distinctive examples of Neo-classical French furniture that we can supply.
The following years, and how they influenced French furniture design:
Directoire French Furniture 1795 – 1804
After the revolution furniture in France naturally became less flamboyant and more restrained in design. Simplified versions of Neo-classical designs were manufactured from cheaper materials and limited ornamentation. Geometric designs remained with plentiful use of the Anthemion motif (below). Egyptian motifs also appeared during this period, with the Sphinx appearing in the bronze detailing. During the Directoire period furniture is said to have been in transition between Louis XVI and the proceeding style of Empire Furniture.
Empire French Furniture 1804 – 1814
Empire Furniture was developed under Napoleon and as such the letter N is continually found in the decoration of the time, along with the characteristics of the earlier Neo-classical and Directoire furniture. Napoleon surrounded himself with furniture that resembled those of great Roman empires, and as such the furniture manufactured in this period is often labelled the least attractive, due to its unoriginal imitation of earlier styles.
Restoration French Furniture 1814 – 1830
The following period after Napoleon’s demise is known as the Restoration period. Louis XVIII took the throne for just under a decade before dying and leaving the crown to his brother Charles. In the early Restoration period furniture was still very similar to that of Empire furniture, but manufactured without Napoleon’s stamp for obvious reasons. Instead musical instruments, flowers and rosettes began appearing in the furniture designs, but furniture of this period is not particularly celebrated. Manufacture had slowed during economic uncertainty and the monarchs of this period were not particularly interested in the production of furniture.
Louis Phillippe Furniture 1830 – 1848
When Louis Phillippe took the throne in 1830 furniture still resembled that of the Restauration period, however more emphasis was put on comfort. Various styles are noticeable in the Louis Phillippe antiques and reproductions of this period, such as a darker tone of wood, S shaped front legs on chairs and gothic architectural designs. The carving and details on furniture of this era is generally less intricate as machines had taken the place of skilled carpentry.
Reproduction French Furniture 1848 – 1870
Following Louis Phillippe Napoleon III came into power and so began reproduction furniture which was probably born out of a lack of innovation during this period. From 1848 – 1878 (which is recognised as the beginning of Art Nouveau furniture) a great number of hybrid and revival styles battled it out for prominence, notably the reproduction Rococo furniture and early renaissance revivals, that came about primarily due to Napoleon III’s passion for the grandeur of Rome. As you are no doubt aware reproduction furniture which is (to spell it out) a copy of an earlier style is vastly produced today, which is a clear sign of its magnificence. You can see some fantastic (not to mention very well priced) examples above.
Country French Furniture
Above I have discussed the history of French furniture in relation to the monarchy and important political figures. This is logical as it is these important people who shaped the fashion of furniture throughout the ages. However, it is country and provincial furniture which is probably the most popular in today’s society.
Country French furniture cannot be included in the timeline for obvious reasons. The fashion of country and provincial furniture spans roughly from 1650 – 1900, with the style of it continually altering due to the changing fashion of the monarchy and higher classes. In a way the blue sweater from The Devil Wears Prada (see analogy in paragraph 6) is the perfect way to characterise country furniture, as it lends itself to the higher fashion in small ways but remains basic and understated in design. For many people who favour rustic design, the lack of sophistication in country French furniture is the appeal.
When I think of country French furniture I think of waxed farmhouse tables, rustic armoires and buffets, ladder back chairs and wrought iron day beds. Interiors tend to be warm and unpretentious whilst maintaining some grace, usually through the inclusion of dried flowers and gingham fabrics. The simplicity of country French furniture lends itself well to modern living. It compliments many styles of interior decoration being as fashionable with the younger generation as well the old.
As discussed in the next paragraph Country furniture is something that we plan to expand into here at Out There Interiors. We have some just lovely rustic furniture designs in the pipeline and can’t wait to get them advertised. Watch this space.
Out There Interiors reproduction French furniture
As mentioned in an earlier paragraph we love eclectic modern living and the idea of combining modern design with unusual furniture and antiques. The Signature French furniture we feature on Out There Interiors currently plays up to this style, being a mixture of styles and colours, ideal for creating individual interiors. At the time of writing this guide we are expanding our French furniture range to include a huge selection of period styles. We have recently advertised a selection of furniture from one our most reliable suppliers, and have chosen a bedroom set in each colour. View ‘more French furniture’ to view these collections, which are available in gold, silver, black and white. Coming soon (as mentioned previously) we will have some fabulous baroque bedroom furniture, an enormous range of Rococo inspired pieces in various colours. We will also be featuring some fabulous neo-classical furniture including a gorgeous chaise longue. Part of the reason for embarking on this writing is the anticipation of the new French furniture we will be supplying in the coming months. Along with the usual brilliantly priced classic furniture reproductions we will also be featuring some high end furniture from (believe it or not) France! This new range will be pricey but absolutely exquisite. If you love statement pieces like me then watch this space for awe inspiring French furniture designs from master French craftsmen.
French furniture quality
When a particular style of furniture enjoys popularity in the way that French furniture has, reproductions of varying quality appear all over the market. Some of the reproductions you will see advertised, such as our soon to be featured designer range will be worthy of their hefty price tags, but others will not. French furniture has enjoyed popularity with a price for many years, in the same way that mirrored furniture made big profits for retailers in the early years of its revival, but here at Out There Interiors we have embraced the concept of beautiful but competitive furniture, and it is our mission to bring you the best quality furniture at the best prices around.
cheap french furniture
Although we are passionate about competitive prices we do believe that cheap furniture is a false economy. Did I say cheap French furniture? Sorry, I meant cheaply manufactured furniture. As an aside, the word cheap is so difficult to use nowadays without cheapening your product. Technically our French furniture IS cheap. It is probably the cheapest on the internet, but we do not say it because it gives the impression that the furniture has been cheaply manufactured, which is not the case. The majority of the carving which is prominent on our reproduction Rococo furniture is hand carved from mahogany by skilled craftsmen. We have real marble tops on our bedside tables and raw silk upholstery on many of our furnishings. Each and every piece of furniture is hand painted, and carefully distressed (if applicable) to highlight the areas where natural wear and tear would have occurred on the originals. To take a step back, we believe that cheaply manufactured furniture is a false economy as it creates its own problems. Handles, legs and details snap off, rough edges snag delicate clothes and drawers are stiff and difficult to use. Other cheaply manufactured furniture arrives in differing shades and you cannot guarantee that it will match. All problems you can do without.
Of course quality isn’t absolutely everything. Good design is also worth money, so when purchasing French furniture think about what you are more concerned with. If the furniture you are considering is made of mediocre materials but the style, shape and colour blows your mind, then maybe it’s worth taking very good care of. After-all we can only afford what we can afford. However, as we are predominately an online company and recognise that you cannot gauge the quality of the furniture we advertise on the basis of a picture alone, I can assure you that the quality of the French furniture we supply is very good indeed.
I hope this guide hasn’t been too tedious and has served to provide you with some nuggets of information that will impress your friends (or win you a pub quiz). Next time you’re browsing French bedroom furniture in a local furniture store and you spot a Grecian wreath on a geometrically styled bedside table you can turn to the shop keeper and say ‘I’m looking for something from an earlier period darling, the Neo-Classics are not to my taste’. Just remember you owe the smug feeling that follows to Out There Interiors.com.
Thanks for reading.
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