From politics and philosophy to royalty and industry, bespoke furniture design over the centuries has been shaped by all manner of tastes and cultural attitudes. Some eras were so iconic – for example, Regency and Art Deco – that their influence can still be felt today. Indeed, all great design is a conversation with the past, either through the materials we use or the reinterpretation of patterns and motifs.
This is certainly true at DAVIDSON and we have always been proud of the way our work combines classic elegance with the latest in contemporary design. Here, we share the five key design eras that are a constant inspiration for our work alongside some examples of our favourite DAVIDSON pieces.
The 18th Century
The style of furniture during this time, commonly referred to as the Georgian period, lasted for approximately 100 years and three King Georges, running roughly between 1714 and 1800. The period can be divided into three style eras – Early Georgian, the Transition and Chippendale period, and Classic Georgian – with each era featuring slightly different designs and features.
For example, by the 1740s walnut had been replaced with mahogany as the wood of choice. This was mainly down to the great storm of 1703 which destroyed much of the stock of English walnut trees bringing an end to the age of walnut. By the mid 18th century, mahogany had become the favoured choice by makers such as Chippendale for fashionable furniture. The Chippendale period was known for its features borrowed from the French Rococo and Louis XV styles, alongside Chinese, Gothic and classic Louis XVI styles. These influences can be seen in the predominance of strong, elegant carvings and motifs that include lion masks and foliage. Chair legs featuring claw and ball feet were also common.
But it was the Classic Georgian – also known as neo-classical – that was one of the most enduring styles of this era, heavily influenced by Greek and Roman architecture. This was an age of pillars and columns – with no less than three styles, Corinthian, Ionic and Doric, all favoured – in homage to the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were discovered in 1748. Animals, both real and imaginary, were popular too, including dolphins, sphinxes, satyrs and especially lion heads.
This Georgian side cabinet exemplifies the strong, elegant carvings and motifs of the period.
The Regency era spanned around three decades, from 1800 to 1830, and was a time of great cultural refinement. It took the neoclassical antique style of the late Georgian era furniture to new heights, moving from inspiration to actually copying ancient styles. Nelson’s victory at Waterloo saw the introduction of naval emblems such as rope twist carvings on chairs.
Regency furniture was typically made using dark, heavy wood with metal accents. The introduction of new trade routes to the New World over the previous century meant that demand for increasingly exotic woods in furniture making had grown. Mahogany remained the primary wood of choice, but was now heavily complemented by rosewood, zebrawood and ebony. The expanding middle classes desire for fine furniture reflected their newfound affluence.
But it was the ornate metal accents that gave Regency furniture its opulence. Brass, bronze and imitation gold were used for inlays, mounts and handles, as well as for decoration in the form of animal features – from lion and sphinx masks to paw-shaped feet adorning the legs of tables and chairs with gilding much in evidence and reflecting the taste of the Prince Regent, later to become George IV in 1820.
A classic DAVIDSON dining table forming part of their original collection of regency style designs before the style made the transition to contemporary.
While the name might suggest modern-day furniture design, in fact, the European Contemporary movement began at the start of the 20th Century. It continued to be popular right through to the 1950s, although other styles developed alongside it. With the introduction of new manufacturing technology came a desire to move away from elaborate decoration to something more minimalist, with the focus on functionality rather than ornamentation. Styles changed after the end of the WWII. The younger generation no longer wanting the styles of their parents as they cultured a brand-new world.
Designers experimented with materials, shapes, colours and sizes to create pieces of furniture that complemented the needs of the human body. Carved wood was replaced with new materials, such as steel, moulded plywood and plastic in the 1950s and 1960s and the dark woods were replaced by a more neutral colour palette, including woods in natural hues, sleek chrome finishes, and black and white accents. Contemporary furniture tended to be more sober, with an undecorated elegance that highlighted the simplicity of the designs and materials.
The Hamilton Dining Table is a wonderful example of contemporary aesthetic elegance, available in a range of design iterations and finishes.
Sleek, geometric and elegant, Art Deco reached its pinnacle in the 1920s and 1930s, driven by the younger generation of people after WWI. Featuring the highest quality materials, this iconic era oozed glamour and sophistication. The style – and its moniker – originated in France, first seen at the ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes’ held in Paris in 1925.
Art Deco furniture was typically made from high quality woods - such as ebony, walnut, maple, ash, sycamore and mahogany - and was often characterised by a high sheen; wood was polished and often lacquered to achieve a very hard and shiny finish. The finest pieces were in France where the design originated and the likes of designers such as Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Andre Arbus were thriving.
Many Art Deco pieces also featured inlays of ivory, brass or mother of pearl, or incorporated materials such as wrought iron, glass, marble, aluminium and chrome. The furniture was also often upholstered in leather, shagreen (sharkskin), vellum (goat skin) or exotic furs or hides.
Our Art Deco-inspired Grace Dining Table has been a favourite with DAVIDSON clients for 15 years, not least because its form, style and detailing can be fully customised to meet your requirements and tastes, while still retaining a strong 1920s influence. This particular design is very practical and comfortable to sit at as both pedestals are narrow and tucked in providing optimum leg room.
The Mid-Century Modern style lasted from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s. Its roots lie in the earlier German Bauhaus design movement and it was brought over to the US – and made popular – by immigrants both during and after the Second World War.
Post-war, technological advances led to the production of a range of new materials, making it possible to explore new textures, effects, colours and form. For example, traditional pieces were reimagined by combining classic materials, such as wood, with more modern options, such as plastic, glass and vinyl. Like Modernism, this style favoured functionality, clean lines and minimal ornamentation. The result was always an understated, timeless look.
The Truman Cabinet by DAVIDSON is a prime example of the Mid-Century Modernist movement, with its bold lines, modern materials and striking angles.
Whether you’re looking for that perfect piece of Regency-inspired furniture or thinking of commissioning a bespoke design inspired by the great Art Deco furniture designers of the time, we can help. Our team would be delighted to help you turn your dream into a reality. Find out more about DAVIDSON and make an enquiry here.