The Victorian era spanned the years from the 1830s to 1900, when Queen Victoria was on the British throne. Interior design styles focused on the ornate and the historical, drawing on revivals of past eras of design. Furniture was considered a status symbol, and rooms were filled with many pieces, often not all the same design style.
- Furniture production took a huge jump in Victorian times, with the advent of mass manufacture of many types of furniture. This made Victorian furniture more readily available to the middle class, and often these “reproduction” type pieces of furniture were not well made. Victorian furniture abounds in today’s antique shops because of this burst in production.
- Victorian furniture designers took their designs from earlier fashions, particularly the Gothic style and the Rococo style. Tudor and Elizabethan furniture was also reimagined and modified in Victorian designs. Furniture in Renaissance and Neo-Classical styles also were seen in Victorian-era decorating. English, French and Italian Rococo revival furniture pieces were among the most popular in homes, while artistically, the Gothic revival designs became the most influential to later generations, as they are now considered to be hallmarks of Victorian design.
- In England, the Victorian styles of furniture were all the rage as they came out, and the trend in design was focused on England, as its queen gave her name to the age. “Englishness” was a quality prized in furniture. For that reason, the English oak became a popular furniture wood at this time, although it was not the most widely available wood. Revivals of classic English designers like Thomas Chippendale and Robert Adam became popular in the late Victorian furniture designs, resulting in many reproductions of their work produced for the large middle-class market.
- Though America was no longer a colony of England, English culture and designs still had an enormous impact on American home design in the Victorian age, including furniture. Corresponding with the early Victorian designs in England was the so-called Eclectic period in American furniture, which drew on all the different types of revivals and influences that English furniture designers used in Victorian times, and combined them with simpler, colonial styles as well. In the last two decades of the century, when English furniture was progressing through its late Victorian phase, American furniture was turning more toward the Arts and Crafts ethos.
- The interior design and art style that preceded the Victorian age was the Regency style, a simpler style drawing on Grecian and classic lines. Early Victorian furniture shows a transition from these designs to more ornate, more highly decorated pieces of furniture, also called the “high Victorian” style. Furniture was designed for its location in the house and children’s furniture retained more simplicity. Classic, heavy Tudor-like furniture was to be found in men’s rooms and dining rooms. Designers mixed several styles in this time period, with no one style predominating the furniture market. Shoddy craftsmanship accompanied the rise of mass-market furniture, with lots of ornate decoration and veneers added to disguise poor joins and low-quality woods. The style that emerged was more heavily Gothic and Rococo with the added decorations. Furniture was carved intricately and upholstered in velvet fabrics for an expensive look. Ironwork furniture also came onto the market and was especially popular in bedrooms.
- In the later Victorian period, from the 1860s to the turn of the century, two major art and design movements began, influencing the end of the period and the development of other late Victorian styles. The Arts and Crafts movement and the aesthetic movement began to gain ground, both of which considered furniture as an art form. The extravagance of the early Victorian furniture came to be seen as wasteful, and painting furniture rather than carving it became fashionable. The amount of upholstering done decreased, and straight lines predominated over the flares and curves popular in furniture of the early Victorian age. Japanese designs were brought in to some furniture, and other designers were influenced by antique styles, including Etruscan and Egyptian.