An Easy Guide to 6 European Furniture Styles You Need to Know

Art Wise

From the ornate carvings on Italian Renaissance chairs to the straight geometrical lines of Art Deco dressers, there’s so much to love about different styles of European furniture, with each iconic style having developed during different times in history. While each style has distinct features, not everyone can easily distinguish between them. Here’s a cheat sheet for some of the most popular furniture styles from Europe, that will help you recognize them with ease!

Image Courtesy: The Great Eastern Home 

Ancient Greek

There are very few items of Ancient Greek furniture that survived the ages, but sources from literature and art give us details of what they looked like. Ancient Greek furniture was mostly made of wood, but metalwork and stone was also common. The Greeks had a style of chair that was typical to them, called Klismos, which had a curved backrest and legs that curved inwards. The design was reproduced in the age of Neoclassicism in the 17th century, as well as in more recent times.

Klismos Chair by Nicolai Abildgaard, Circa 1790; Image Source:

Other Greek designs included backless stools with minimally decorated legs that resembled columns of temples, and beds called Kline, which were used as couches and for reclining during meals.

Reproduction of a Greek Kline; Image Source:

Italian Renaissance

Italian Renaissance furniture, like most of the art and architecture of the glorious period, reflected ancient and classical designs in form and decoration. The carvings on the furniture from this era were intricate, and mythological creatures commonly appeared. Italian Renaissance furniture set a benchmark for the rest of Europe and started a trend for palatial, decorative and artistic pieces made of woods like walnut and chestnut. X-shaped chairs, heavily detailed chests, and tables with ornate legs featuring scrolls, are typical of this era. Renaissance style furniture has also been reproduced at several points in history.

Italian Renaissance Carved Walnut Center Table from the 16th Century; Image Source:

Left: Dante Chair, Right: Italian Chair in Walnut Wood
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French Styles

Although many of the defining features of French furniture depend upon the time-period that one is looking at, there are a few elements of the French aesthetic that remain constant across centuries, albeit, in different degrees. The most significant characteristic of French furniture is the ‘refined’ nature of the pieces, with most of them being intricately decorated with paintings and delicate carvings.

Left: French Cabinet, Right: French Cabinet With Drawers
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French furniture from all periods prior to modern, from Renaissance to Rococo, Classic Revival to French Provincial, have soft, curved lines and elegant forms. The colours are usually pale and the furniture pieces usually have decorated cabriole legs. The use of gold leaf is also significant, originally found in furniture that belonged to the aristocracy.

French Chest of Drawers, Circa 1745-49, Image Source:

French Armchair, Circa 1690-1710; Image Source:

British Colonial

British Colonial style furniture is the term given to furniture that developed in areas that were colonized by Britain, from 16th century onwards. British Colonial furniture was made by craftsmen from the colonies, in the style of furniture that was prevalent in England at the time (particularly in the late Georgian, Regency and Victorian styles), but in woods and materials that were native to the colonies. In addition to that, the articles of furniture also bear design elements of the countries they were made in. British Colonial furniture is characterized by sturdy yet well carved pieces made of dark woods such as ebony, teak, and mahogany, with details often made of wicker and rattan.

 Left: Revolving Teak and Wicker Office Chair, Right: Armchair With Footrest
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Colonial Style Octagonal Teak Wood Table 
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Art Nouveau

The Art Nouveau or ‘New Art’ movement emerged in Europe in the late 19th century, as a contradiction to styles being followed by the Art Academies in Europe. Art Nouveau design is characterized by nature inspired artworks, architecture and designs, with natural lines, the iconic whiplash curve, and earthy colours.

Art Nouveau Furniture Featuring the Iconic Whiplash Curve and Asymmetrical Design

Art Nouveau furniture was a movement against Industrialization and mass production, and can be characterized by exceptional, artistic designs with incredible and intricate detail, that are entirely handcrafted. From leafy details on chairs to asymmetrical beds and cabinets in luxurious woods and fine finishes, Art Nouveau furniture is admired even today, for its exquisite craftsmanship.

Art Nouveau Cane Chair
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French Art Nouveau Structural Leaf Chair, Circa 1890-1910, Image 

Art Deco

Art Deco is a style of visual arts, design and architecture that emanated the spirit of the ‘Roaring Twenties’. A movement that began in Paris in the 1920’s, Art Deco is characterized by a departure from the soft and naturally fluid lines of Art Nouveau, into geometric shapes and straight lines.

Left: Art Deco Dresser With Round Mirror, Left: Art Deco Office Cabinet
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The philosophy of the Art Deco aesthetic was to celebrate glamour, luxury and modernity, which was evident in the choice of rich materials and experimental designs. Art Deco furniture is immediately recognizable for its’ geometrical shapes and angular corners. Metals like aluminium, stainless steel and chrome were commonly used in the furniture of this era. Chairs with shell backs and patterns like chevrons and triangles in furniture are also common.

Art Deco Chairs from the 1920s; Image Source:

A Carved Mahogany Armchair in the Art Deco Style, Circa 1927-1928, Image Source:

With distinct designs that set worldwide trends for centuries, European furniture is still a craze in the world today. Contemporary furniture styles also often look back at the masterpieces of past eras, and it is not uncommon to see elements of these in the furniture of today, making it easy for you to have a touch of old Europe in your home!

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