Sinonimi: piece of furniture | article of furniture
ETYM French fourniture. Related to Furnish.
Movable functional items such as tables, chairs, and beds needed to make a room or a home more comfortable and easier to live and work in. Furniture may be made from a wide variety of materials, including wood, stone, metal, plastic, papier-mâché, glass, cane, and textiles. Styles vary from plain utilitarian to richly ornate, and decoration may be added in the form of carving, inlay, veneer, paint, gilding, or upholstery.
Furniture reflects evolving technology and fashion, and has often been valued more as a status symbol than for actual use. The quantity and variety of furniture, as well as its comfort, have increased in the West, especially in the last 300 years.
The ancient Mediterranean.
Wood is the most commonly used material for making furniture, but because it decays quite quickly, very little ancient furniture survives. The ancient Egyptians had wooden beds, chairs, tables, and stools, decorated with carving, gilding, or veneer. Egyptian woodworkers are thought to have invented the mortice and tenon joint, which strengthened and stabilized frames of seats and items such as chests.
In Classical Greece and Rome only the wealthiest people owned furniture; much of this was made of bronze and stone, some of it carved to look like wood. The feet of chairs and tables in the ancient world were often shaped like animals’ paws or hoofs. Couches were an important feature of wealthy Greek and Roman households, since people both reclined on them during meals and slept on them at night. Tables were usually low enough to be stored under couches when not in use. A common style of chair in ancient Greece was the klismos, which had curved legs. The Romans adopted many Greek furniture designs, adapting them to suit their own tastes; they liked upholstered chairs and stools, and introduced large tables made from a single slab of marble, supported at either end by carved upright slabs.
In ancient times furniture was a sign of social rank, and only the very wealthy owned the expertly crafted furniture that was first produced in China during the 3rd century BC. Styles in China later divided into the simple forms found in people's homes, and the ornate items made for emperors and their officials. All furniture, however, was skillfully made, with precisely cut joints which eliminated the need for nails or dowels. Japanese furniture was made of wood, often lacquered and inlaid with shells. It was both sparse and lightweight, consisting mainly of storage cabinets and low tables, since people traditionally both sat and slept on mats on the floor. Furniture in ancient India was more luxurious; a wealthy home might have canopied beds and divans, tables, storage chests for clothes, benches, and chairs, all lavishly draped and upholstered with spreads, curtains, and pillows.
Most of the furniture made before 1300 in Europe was crudely built of painted or gilded wood. Landowners and important clergy traveled a great deal, frequently taking their entire households and furniture along with them. Thus, although furniture was heavy and solid, much of it could be dismantled for carrying from place to place. Folding X-frame chairs with fabric seats were popular, and chests were important pieces of furniture, since they were portable, and could be used for seating as well as storage. Hinges were often made of leather, which was cheap and easily obtained; more valuable chests had decorative iron hinges and locks.
From about 1300, fashionable Italian furnituremakers produced work for their wealthy clients that showed the influence of ancient Greece and Rome, and their ideas soon spread to the rest of Europe. They used finer wood than their predecessors, and decorated their work with intricate carvings, gilding, and paintings. Chests were still important, but were more grandly decorated than anything made earlier. The addition of legs to chests led to the development of cupboards and cabinets containing small drawers. Cabinets were built in two parts, with a top section resting on a larger base. Elaborately carved four-poster beds were hung with expensive curtains, often embroidered with flowers, birds, or scenes from Classical mythology.
Classical designs were still very much in evidence, but with far more decoration added than before. World exploration brought new and exotic materials to European furnituremakers, who inlaid furniture with tropical woods, semiprecious stones, and shells. Walnut replaced oak as the fashionable wood to use, and rich upholstery became a desirable status symbol. Chests of drawers on legs, tall cupboards, and long sideboards developed from Renaissance cabinets and cupboards. Furniture became more and more luxurious, especially under the influence of the French king Louis XIV, whose new furniture for his palace at Versailles featured the new technique of veneering, as well as carving, lacquer, and precious metals, especially silver.
Early 18th-century Europe.
After the grand and heavy Louis XIV style, fashions entered the Rococo period, becoming lighter and more frivolous. Following Louis XIV's death, power passed to a regent, the Duke of Orléans, who preferred more graceful designs known as the Régence style. Under the next king, Louis XV, gentle curves replaced straight lines; legs of furniture were carved into S-curves, the fronts of cupboards and chests of drawers were curved and had decorative, asymmetrical bronze and ormolu mounts swirling across them in the form of plants and animals. A low chest of drawers on legs, the commode, was popular in most of Europe. The Chinese-inspired style known as chinoiserie produced such features as wooden furniture carved to look like bamboo and then lacquered. British furniture design was more subdued: the Palladian style continued to use Classical elements and the Queen Anne style was very simple and restrained.
In the second half of the 18th century European furniture design turned away from flowing Rococo curves and back to straight lines, symmetry, and Classical motifs; this became known as the Neo-Classical period. In Britain this style was typefied by the elegant designs of Robert Adam, which were decorated with urns, columns, and moldings based on those of ancient Rome. Mahogany was the fashionable wood of the period. Pale colors were popular, some furniture was painted white and decorated with gilding.
Around the end of the 18th century the North American colonies, which until now had followed English fashions, began to develop styles of their own. One notable style was Shaker furniture. Based on traditional English wooden furniture, it is elegant and functional, without any decoration.
Early 19th century.
The Neo-Classical period in France gave way to the Empire style, developed under Napoleonic rule. It was drawn from ancient Roman, Greek, and Egyptian architecture, and was heavy and imposing. Curved legs on furniture were fashionable, as well as elaborately carved sphinxes and characters from Classical mythology. Beds were draped with silk or velvet hung from above to give the impression of a tent. Following Napoleon's exile, the grand Empire style which had been associated with him gradually lost its appeal. In Britain and the US another variation on the Neo-Classical style was the Regency style. This was similar to the French Empire style, but lighter and more graceful, and instead of carved decoration, brass inlay became the fashion, along with Oriental-style lacquer.
Much of this period was taken up with revivals of earlier styles. Gothic details were added to Regency furniture; Rococo and Renaissance revivals followed, with decoration and upholstery applied liberally. Mahogany remained popular, but now it was used to make heavy, ornate furniture, often with mirrored doors. In contrast with earlier periods, rooms now tended to be crowded with furniture, resulting in a jumbled profusion of styles, decoration, and ornament.
Late 19th century.
The Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction against mass-produced furniture and textiles. It tried to promote high standards of design in handmade furniture, producing simpler, solidly made items with subtler decoration that depended more on the skill involved than on ostentation. In keeping with the movement's aims, furniture was more likely to be made of oak than the earlier mahogany. At the same time, and to some extent overlapping with Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau developed, also as a reaction to the heavy revival styles. The fashion now was for flowing, natural shapes, with an extreme tendency toward asymmetry. Both the furniture itself and its decoration featured curving plant shapes, curving water patterns, and wispy, curving female forms with flowing hair. Metalwork and carved wood lent themselves well to Art Nouveau designs. Both the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau fell from fashion after World War I.
This century has produced a number of furniture styles. This is due not only to the variety of new materials that have become available, such as plastic, plywood, steel, aluminum, and fiberglass, but also to the fact that furniture is almost exclusively mass-produced, making it easier for styles to change more rapidly. There has been a demand for lightweight, inexpensive furniture that is easy to maintain. The Bauhaus school, founded 1919, pioneered the use of tubular steel frames for furniture. Art Deco, between the two world wars, developed out of the non-naturalistic elements of Art Nouveau, using designs that could be mass-produced. It was unusual among modern styles in that it used nonfunctional ornament, such as zigzags, circles, triangles, and suns, to decorate furniture.
Smaller houses have meant that, as well as simplifying the design of individual pieces of furniture, designers have tended to simplify the look of a room by reducing the amount of furniture in it, moving away from the cluttered 19th-century look and coming closer to the Classical or Japanese style.
Artifacts that make a room ready for occupancy; SYN. piece of furniture, article of furniture.