I love shopping antique furniture stores online because I never know what treasures I’ll find. However, I try not to make impulse purchases. Especially with antique furniture, what looks great from a distance can be a mess up-close. I’ve made the mistake of letting my heart take over and bought pieces that I’ve regretted. On the other hand, I’ve also gotten some great deals.
If you’re looking to purchase English antique furniture, either at an auction or an online antique furniture shop, be sure to do some research first. Decide which types of wood and furniture styles are your favorites, learn to tell the difference between styles, and know what pieces you want.
Understanding Antique English Furniture
Because of its elegant appearance and ties to British history, taste, and culture, antique English furniture is widely collected. Furniture designed and produced in Britain, despite international influences, has always stood apart from European and Asian designs. Even with the ornately carved ornamentation of the Carolean or Victorian eras, there has always been a nod to balance, harmony, and proportion. This makes British furniture a perfect addition to any interior décor, no matter the style. Here are ten popular English furniture movements for you to know:
1603 to 1625AD – Jacobean Era
This movement began when Queen Elizabeth passed the crown of England to King James I. Using mainly pine and oak, this furniture type was meant to last several generations and was typically dark, big, and boxy. It was much more practical than comfortable, so one way to get guests to leave is to have a dining room table and chairs in the Jacobean style!
1660 to 1685 – Carolean/Restoration Era
After a period of upheaval (putting it mildly), King Charles II ascended the throne. He brought inspiration from his time in exile from the Dutch and French Baroque styles. This furniture movement is most notable by its decoration of heavy floral marquetry and carvings, gold and silver embellishments, and the use of darkly stained walnut wood. Velvet and leather upholstery completed the seating pieces.
1690 to 1730 – William and Mary Era (Early Baroque)
After nearly 100 years of heavily carved furniture, the era of William and Mary designs were thinner and lighter. William admired French décor and you can see its effect; the writing desk and daybed were invented at this time as well. Maple and walnut wood were most often used, allowing the grain to show.
1702 to 1760 – Queen Anne Era (Late Baroque)
Although this furniture movement began to change and develop during William III’s reign, this era is usually applied to designs which were popular during and after the years of Queen Anne (1702-1714). Queen Anne furniture is noted by its beautiful curved lines, cabriole legs, and minimal ornamentation. Feminine in its look, Queen Anne design is also known for its use of poplar, cherry, maple, and walnut woods.
1714 to 1830 – Georgian Era
It’s during the Georgian era that furniture designers became as well-known as their designs. Two of the most popular during this time were George Hepplewhite and Thomas Chippendale – not to be confused with the famous scantily clad male dancers! This era extends through the reigns of King George I, II, and III and the designs are identified by furniture with intricate low relief ornamentation and straight forms and clean lines. Mahogany imported from South and Central America replaced the use of walnut.
1740 to 1900 – Gothic Revival Era
Overlapping the Georgian, Rococo, and Victorian eras, the Gothic Revival period lasted more than 150 years and paralleled the resurgence of Anglo-Catholic traditional beliefs. The furniture’s appearance was drastically changed due to the return to religious and social conservatism. It affected the architecture and artwork of that time period as well. Most wood pieces were carved with shapes to resemble the rose windows and pointed arches of cathedrals. A return to dark wood, leather or velvet upholstery, along with finials, floral details, and heraldic motifs identify this movement. Think of huge, dark cathedrals and knights in shining armor and you’ll understand the look and feel of this era!
1750 to 1830 – Neo-Classical Era & 1762 to 1830 – The Regency Era
These two movements are listed together because not only do they appear at the same time, the furniture styles are also very similar. Furniture designer Thomas Sheraton is known for designing both styles, along with Hepplewhite, Thomas Hope, and Robert Adam.
Both styles are heavily influenced by ancient Rome, Egypt, and Greece, although Neo-Classical is less strict than Regency in its interpretation. Neo-Classical is generally more extravagant than Regency styles, but both are designed with straight lines, classic motifs, fluting, elegant forms, and sophisticated details.
1830 to 1900 – Victorian Era
During this time, the Industrial Revolution allowed furniture makers to mass produce pieces for the middle class. Victorian furniture was often big and heavy with ornate carving. They used mahogany, walnut, and rosewood woods with lots of velvet upholstery. It was influenced by earlier eras such as Neo-Classical and Rococo. Consider adding a Victorian chair to a contemporary living room as the perfect juxtaposition of styles.
1880 to 1910 – Arts & Crafts Era
This style was a world-wide movement that fought against the late 19th and early 20th centuries’ heavy industrialization. This era returned to folk styles and handcrafted workmanship and the appreciation of creativity and manual construction. This furniture style featured angular forms, rectangles, and clean lines, reminiscent of Japanese and Islamic design. Celtic Revival also influenced the British Arts & Crafts era. Oak wood and the designs of William Morris are central to this era.
1880 to 1910 – Art Nouveau Era
Although this era was developing at the same time as Arts & Crafts, many people confuse Art Nouveau with the Art Deco era. While Art Deco came later, all three have much in common. They all highlight organic forms, clean lines, and craftsmanship. However, Art Nouveau was considered more decorative and even luxurious. It featured elongated and curved lines, stylized flowers, semi-precious stones, gold leaf and stained glass. This was due to Chinese and Persian influences, making it seem exotic. Art Deco was much less popular in England, but its geometric lines make it recognizable and notable.
Looking for antique English furniture? You will find it easy these days to find incredible finds on online antique furniture stores. There are lots of pieces out there, both true antiques as well as quality reproductions. A simple table, a decorative chair, or an entire dining room set can create an amazing ambiance in your home or office. Happy hunting!