They state that design is a reflection of historical events. Whenever a designer configures the design of the space, they tend to make it relatable to the clients as per their tastes & lifestyle. Different styles make up for the special look and feel of the space. As for the interiors, this space is characterized by the elements. These elements help to make the space livable, by enhancing the beauty of the space. The word ‘Furniture’ is derived from the French word ‘fourniture’, which means equipment or instruments. Let’s examine the history of furniture creation and development.

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Antique Furniture in the Indian Market _© Architectural Digest

From the Archives: Early History

Whatever is known to mankind today is due to the recorded history. This was found in the form of papyrus scrolls or wall inscriptions dating back to 5000 BC. It is observed that the furniture has evolved from mere storage to decorations and is now the space’s characteristic feature. With the sole intention of storing goods, there have been documented history of stone dressers and cupboards meant for storage. Even espied that the hierarchal systems influenced the furniture of the past. Around the 9th century BC, the most extravagant piece of furniture was beds that had special places in the Queen’s and Pharaoh’s area. The beds had peculiar features of their legs carved out as animal legs with the beds sloping to have heads on the higher altitude and legs at the lower. With that there witnessed seats and stools of various kinds to hold feet, vases, headrests, and chairs like that of palanquin to hold the people of power up during processions. Followed by the Egyptians comes the ancient styles from Greece & Rome. 

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Egyptian Beds _© Pinterest
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Egyptian Chair & Footstool__© Brian Playfair

The Ancient Greece styles showed a sense of comfort. Inlays and carving still being a part of the furniture but were elaborately styled without being excessive. As the Greeks followed the tradition of reclining meals, the seats came with upholstered headboards. Shelves were never a part of the furniture system. Storage chests of various sizes beautifully painted with flora were exotic part of the furniture that was even a part of the family legacy. The Roman Empire was concerned with the attractiveness of areas, therefore they were adorned with frescoes, mosaics, and water features. They used primitive couches known as ‘lectus’ with chairs, stools, and tables with lamps.

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Renaissance Armchair _© Pinterest

The Middle Ages exhibited basic furniture mostly made out of oak. The early use of hutch trunks for storage and transporting was seen in this period. As oak came into the picture, Gothic furniture used oak with softwoods in a heavily ornamented format. Gothic architecture is distinguished by ornate decorations that follow religious themes. So, heraldic symbols of lions, hawks, and griffins with flora and fauna were dominant in the designs. The bed styles featured posts hence the four-poster beds with linens and carvings depicting mythical creatures including Gargoyles to keep evil away with good linen drapes became the Gothic bedroom style.

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Gothic Beds_© Pinterest

This had a considerable influence but a definite shift in the cynosure was observed. The carvings shifted to absolute biblical reference. As the era was termed Renaissance, evolving interests in science and arts with material experimentations were prominent. Original designs came at the forefront with massive wooden furniture pieces and rectangular forms that also became family heirlooms. Tudor styles and Elizabethan furniture from England were during this time. The chests, coat hangers, footstools, family crests, and shields of power adorned the palaces. The higher authority of the family was directly proportional to the grandeur of the furniture and palaces. Further on the Baroque and the Rococo displayed exaggerated majesty and pomp with vibrancy in color and meticulous details. This dramatic ornamentation was to flaunt the aura and luxury of the higher classes of the society which received its set of backlashes as the commoner was unable to afford this level of drama and décor. 

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Indian Colonial Furniture_© AEGM

In the Indian subcontinent, it began with the Portuguese traders bringing their furniture through trade lines and then was replicated by Indian craftsmen for the other Portugal leaders. Indian artisans incorporated native styles while replicating that led to a diverse form of Indo-Portuguese style. Northern India had a mix of Mughal influence and Portuguese style and became the Mughal style furniture with more tables and writing desks with decorations. The amalgamation of Portuguese and Southern styles with geometric patterns became a part of Goanese style furniture. With the Dutch setting up their trade bases in India, another style the Indo-Dutch style of furniture with hardwoods of lighter color, and incised decorations moved onto Java for mass production. 

Rise and Rise of Furniture Design: Brought by Machines 

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Neoclassical Table _©

The 18th century witnessed the rise of Neo-Classicism after the pompous design era. Neo-Classical furniture is defined by précised lines, lesser curves, and swirls. Ornamentation was still a part of the design but was minimal. The recent additions went on to be dedicated bookcases and accessories that continued the theme of the space. The 19th century was the time when industrialization paved its way and simplicity with mass production dominated the world domain. Modern furniture was characterized by lighter colors, simpler sleek styles with pure geometry. The function came after the form, and the structure stood in for the design. Industrial materials like glass, molded plywood, steel, and plastics shifted the paradigm solely based on the functional design of furniture.   

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Bentwood Chair Michael Thonet, Brooklyn Museum_© Wikipedia

Michael Thonet was responsible for the creation of the bentwood chair, a famous example of a mass-produced rocking chair. Various German designers like Peter Behrens came together to form Werkbund which helped to create a partnership of manufacturers with the designer. The, ‘less is more’ philosophy of the Bauhaus School of Design, founded by Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, had a significant influence on these works. Furniture made of tubular metal was designed with the Bauhaus school’s cantilever-ness in mind. Thus, innovations also led to experiments in wood. Alvar Alto, Jean Prouve, and Charlotte Perriand were some of the designers fueling the movement.

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Bauhaus Bruno Chair Meir van de Rohe_© Knoll, Dezeen

From industries to residences in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a resurgence of fascination in industrial furniture design. Production facilities’ raw, unfinished appearance affected design trends, with discarded components and repurposed industrial elements finding their way into homes, restaurants, and cafés. Antique industrial furniture’s elegance and charm became popular, igniting a new generation of industrial-inspired designs. Art Deco & Art Noveau displayed unconventional styles. With its zig-zag, circular patterns, and gleaming luster materials, Art Deco combined elegance and glitter with sophistication. Art Noveau reviving curves in its aesthetic typology through symbolism are fluid.

Fashion Forward

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Art Deco Chair_© Elle Decor

The Second half of the 20th century had a peak of modern style furniture as functionalism was a major concern. Materials with mass production to provide durable furniture were the goal. Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier & Meis van de Rohe included their styles in this category. Le Corbusier on the other hand experimented with steel furniture in his style that could have multi-utility like tables and chairs converting to chaise lounges. With that, it would be remiss not to mention the striking contribution of ‘Grand Comfort’, a compact armchair. 

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Grand Confort Le Corbusier_©

Aluminum and iron furniture are common materials used in stylish and minimalist present-day designs; iron kitchen/dining area furnishings are among the most popular kinds. Contemporary furniture relates to any recent or modern furniture designs, (from the 1970s onward), spanning across the world. Globalization has also influenced furniture design, with designers seeking inspiration from a broader range of countries and styles. This has resulted in more diversified and varied furniture designs, but it has also prompted concerns about the adaptation of culture and originality. While technology has increased productivity and reduced waste in certain industries, it has also increased transportation and shipping, which may negatively impact the environment. Contemporary designs are the ones with modern designs infused with minimalism with basic forms and simple shapes.

Contemporaray Design Style_©

The development and past of furniture design demonstrate the timeless appeal and adaptability of design. Ancient furniture design showcased the intricacy and overtly dramatic decorative appeal whereas Industrial furniture design has captured us with its raw appeal and practical aesthetics for a long time, from its beginnings in the Industrial Revolution to its present status as a cherished design trend. The later styles appeal to individuals who value its distinctive blending of history, utility, and raw beauty, whether it is the functional minimalism of early commercial designs or the merging of old and modern parts in current items. Despite a lack of expertise in the decorative arts in recent decades, there has been a strong rebirth of great workmanship, especially in the sector of hand-made furniture. The aesthetics with the psychology of the space combining versatility, comfort, and personal luxury is the way ahead.

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Zoya is an Architect trying to break stereotypes. She is an avid reader with progressive perspectives on every aspect with her own quirk. She believes that architecture needs simplistic approach to innovate complexities. She loves Bollywood and wants her words to reach far & wide!