5 Traditional Design Styles, Explained


In the modern-day, flat-packed furniture has made acquiring household goods like chairs, tables, sofas, and more, possible for almost everyone... but this wasn't always the case.

In fact, in the days before IKEA, buying furniture was a big deal. Each piece would have to be hand-carved by a trained furniture maker, assembled on-site, then delivered, at a hefty price tag.

This was the era of traditional furniture when furniture creation was approached almost as an art, rather than a process of simple manufacturing. As a result, many of the furniture styles are full of artistic flourishes and are a beauty to behold.

Although this changed as time went on and more manufacturing processes were introduced, the traditional styles feature many elements that hark back to furniture design's earliest days.

Here are 5 of our favorite traditional furniture styles.

Chippendale (1750-1790):

These pieces are named after the English cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale, whose designs became very popular during the third quarter of the 18th century. The style brings together many of those that came before it, such as the Gothic, French, Chinese, and Queen Anne. Its defining features are cabriole legs, ball and claw feet, and broken pediment scroll.

Chippendale's designs are still popular even today, over 200 years later. They not only create an upmarket, classic feel in a home, but they're also hard-wearing and long-lasting. Though true originals are hard to come by, near-perfect modern imitations are available in abundance.

Sheraton (1780-1820):

These pieces are named after the English designer George Sheraton whose work was popular during 1785-1820. His designs have a drastic simplicity to them, with straight lines, contrasting veneers, and sometimes tapered legs.

Although he experienced only modest success during his life, his works became wildly popular after his death. Today, his works are considered some of the great achievements of England's golden age of furniture.

Surprisingly, it wasn't his furniture that initially earned him popularity, but in fact, pictures of his furniture. His 1791 book: The Cabinet-Maker and the Upholsterer's Drawing-Book, presented the designs that would become popular across England and the USA. His book became a bestseller long before his actual pieces were sold in any great quantity.

Victorian (1840-1910):

This was the furniture of Queen Victoria's reign and was the first to be manufactured. It is characterized by Romantic influences, heavy proportions, dark finishes, and elaborate ornamentation. It also brought in "exotic" elements such as Middle Eastern and Asian influences as colonialism brought more cross-cultural influences.

Often featured are leafy and floral patterns with curving lines, similar in many ways to Art Nouveau style pieces. Pieces are also frequently embellished in the form of embossing, tassels, and layered materials. Most Victorian furniture was made from woods like walnut, rosewood, and mahogany.

Art Deco (1910-1939):

Art Deco originated in France just before the First World War, before quickly spreading to the US and the rest of Europe in the early 1930s. The style celebrates design excess, incorporating bold and vibrant colors, geometric shapes, shiny metal surfaces, exotic wood, and ivory inlays.

Art Deco today is still hugely popular and influential, with many designers still using Art Deco styling for inspiration in modern-day design. With its liberal use of luxurious materials like glass chrome and plastic, Art Deco furniture feels at once modern and classic.

Scandinavian Contemporary (1930-1950):

This design became popular in the early 20th century and was named for the group of European countries where it originated. This modernist movement followed three central principles: functionality, minimalism, and simplicity, and was made with natural wood.

Scandi style isn't just about clean lines, functional furnishing, and a neutral palette (though it is that, too); it's also influenced by the Nordic region's cold, short winter days, and a desire for interiors to be cozy, yet bright.

This timeless style is still popular today. Its simple, finely crafted motifs that feature natural materials find widespread appeal in their emphasis on quality over quantity.