The White Cottage

History of French Furniture

French bedroom furniture designs have been admired and collected not only in France itself, but throughtout the world.

Through French furniture history the styles of french furniture has changed to suit the needs of the people. During the Medieval years homes were cold and damp so families hung tapestries on walls. The furniture was simple, mostly consisting of benches and chests made from heavy French Oak. At even these early years, entricate hand carving was common.

The timeline below makes it easier to understand the how the furniture has changed throughout the years.

Medieval Years: 10-15th Centuries

Renaissance: 1515-1560
During the Renaissance the french craftsmen created furniture with deeply carved ornate designs to resemble Greek and Roman architecture. Cabinets resemble small buildings with the architectural columns of Roman Temples.

Louis Xlll: 1560-1643
When Henry IV was assassinated in 1610, his successor, Louis XIII, was too young to rule. Marie de Medici and later, the Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin ruled in his place as regents. During this time, the middle class became much wealthier. This caused a growing demand for furniture among the wealthy and attracted many Italian craftsmen to France.
This was the start of ‘French Country Furniture’. The ‘up and coming’ middle class also meant a new class of people who wanted beautiful furniture who were not Parisians. These rustic pieces reflected the styles popular in the city but were made for a more relaxed country life. The trestle table, with its thick plateau tabletop and graceful trestle legs, is an example of this inviting style.

Louis XlV: 1643-1715
Louis XIV, the most celebrated king of France, built the palace of Versailles, which is a testament to his legacy as a lover of the arts. During his reign the government had departments for architecture, painting, the gardens and of course, cabinet making.
The Louis XIV style is the essence of luxury and magnificence. The furniture of this era is characterized by intricate marquetry, heavy carving and gold leaf decorations of scalloped shells, lions and of course, the sun and its rays.

Regence: 1715-1723
This era takes its name from anotherperiod of regency rule when Louis XV was too young to rule and Phillipe D'Orleans governed in his stead. During this short time, French craftsman loosened their strict adherence to the classical forms the tyrannical Louis XIV adored and look elsewhere for inspiration.
Regence style was inspired by mythological themes and by the Orient. Flowers, shells and dragons were leading decorations. Shapes became more bowed and round like the distinctive "bombe" chest. Chairs were also narrower with deeper seats. Caning was also introduced and marble accents were used throughout. Pretty and romantic, this style of French bedroom furniture became enormously popular in Europe very quickly. Even today, the style endures. Regence furniture is a favorite of antique lovers and collectors.

Louis XV: 1723 - 1774
Louis XV may have been a hesitant king, but his reign marked a time of peace and prosperity. At the time, the Siecle des Lumieres (the Enlightenment) was in full swing with the king Louis XV as its greatest supporter. Women became much more powerful during this period with the dawn of their successful intellectual salons. As a result, their influence was felt in the court. Feminine forms became much more popular, like the roll-top desk which was found in Louis XV's room at Versailles. Pieces with hidden compartments and secret drawers also became popular. And nature motifs were an important part of the decorations and carvings.
With Louis XV furniture, the asymmetry and heavy ornamentation of the Regence period was made even more lavish through the use of extravagant wood veneers and marquetry. All kinds of lacquers and hand painting were also important, especially Oriental lacquers.

Louis XVI: 1774 - 1792
The discovery of the ancient city of Pompeii in 1748 caused a resurgence of the popularity of Greco-Roman antiquities. At the same time, nature motifs were carried over from the Louis XV period. The resulting style is known as neo-classicism.
In the Louis XVI style, intricate marquetry and floral designs were banded by geometrical trims and circumscribed by oval or round medallions. Sculptures of animals such as the eagle, the dolphin or a ram's head were also common. But the feminine proportions were still going strong, as evidence by the new dainty writing desks with ornately carved legs. This was also the first time when chairs were created for strictly ornamental reasons. The seat backs were designed with lyre, vases and flowers.

Directoire: 1793-1804
The Revolution ripped France apart in 1789. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were imprisoned and killed. Napoleon eventually seized power but not before several governing groups fought for power. This era's name, Directoire, refers to one of those elected groups.
Directoire style reflected the transition away from the flamboyant monarchy. Themes of antiquity and nature were still evident but much more subdued. Marquetry was abandoned in favour of more severe decorations. Geometric patterns were prevalent but less extravagant than before, often integrating a Grecian urn into the designs. For the first time, Egyptian motifs emerged. Furniture sometimes included carvings of sphinxes in the bronze hardware detailing.

Empire: 1804 - 1814
In 1804 Napoleon I crowned himself Emperor of France, ending years of political instability and dawning the Empire period. During this time, the economy was booming and a new aristocracy was forming, with Napoleon's court as its cornerstone.
Napoleon's new haute bourgeois court was known for competing with other European courts, trying to out-do each other's extravagance. This sense of competition is seen in the furniture of the time. Silhouettes became grander and more substantial with a more defined structure. Gone were the delicate carvings and round romantic shapes. Bold and formal, Empire style was defined by architectural elements like columns, pilasters and bronze work. The pieces were commonly made from heavy woods such as mahogany and ebony with dark finishes. Marble tops were popular as were Egyptian motifs. Continuing the tradition of Directoire style, artisans used sphinxes, griffins, urns and eagles to decorate their work. They also used Napoleonic symbols, the bee and a large "N."

Restoration & Charles X: 1814 - 1830
Napoleon's love of empire and conquest eventually led to his downfall. In 1814, the French, depressed over their military losses decided to restore the monarchy. The wealthy noble class, many of whom had left after the French Revolution, returned and reinstated King Charles X. They also tried to recapture the beauty and comforts of their former lives.
This meant a quieter form of furniture from the Empire Style. Stron geometry was still used but with a feel of fantasy.
Musical instruments were carved into the legs of small tables and desks. Woods were lighter in both color and density. Detailing highlighted architecture and geometry and pieces were decorated with flowers and garlands.

Louis Phillipe: 1830 - 1848
In 1830, the French people lost their patience with Charles X and over three days of horrible fighting, known as Trois Glorieuses, they overthrew his government. Louis-Phillipe, the Duke of Orleans became the new leader of France. He managed the royalists to his political right, and the radicals on the left but he sympathized with the bourgeois class, who favored him as well.
Up until now french furniture was sold piece by piece. Craftsmen began to take advantage of industrial revolution and so production increased and they began making French bedroom furniture sets furniture sets and French dining room furniture sets. The style combined the best of past designs from the Gothic, Renaissance, Louis XIII and Louis XV periods. Lines were simpler. Mahogany and rosewoods were most common and marble tops were also used. Overall the furniture was very functional, which made it popular with the bourgeois class.