Victorian Furniture

Victorian Furniture -English Period

Victorian Furniture History (Mahogany, Burr Walnut, Rosewood, Ebony 1830-1901)

Victorian furniture is popular today, probably due to it’s accessibility more than the aesthetics. There was plenty of furniture made due to the change in history of methods of manufacture, the machine had taken over and was able to produce mass amounts of Victorian furniture to satisfy the vast demand by the middle class people that desired it.

Furniture history changed forever through the Victorian period. It became desirable to have a home laden with furniture to show your status to your peers.

Throughout history Queen Victoria identified herself with the middle class. Therefore the furniture of this period was made for an ever-increasing middle class population.
Victorian Furniture - Chesterfield c.1885
Chesterfield c.1885

Many people moved from the country into the cities and like the Elizabethan Period, these people demanded that they be wealthy as well as look wealthy, creating more new customers. Large families and lavish entertainment produced a greater need for furniture. Rooms had to be crowded with furniture.

The early part of this period saw machines beginning to replace hand labor, the beginning of the industrial age.
This period created a large gap between the designer and the craftsmen. The factories had changed, the designers no longer had direct contact with the customer. The demand for furniture was high, the factories were manufacturing at a fast pace, and a frantic rush for the designers to keep ahead of each other created poor quality design.

The new machines were introduced to take away from man the back braking jobs and speed up manufacture. They soon began to take over most of the work and the furniture started to be designed around what the machine could make, therefore the quality of design declined. At this stage circular saws, planers and band saws were introduced. Many machines were horse driven, water driven or even man powered.

Victorian Furniture - Smoker's Bow c 1840

Smoker’s Bow c 1840

The clean Grecian lines of the Regency period were out of favour by 1835 and everyone wanted furniture that was showier with plenty of curves. This showier furniture after 1850 led to low prices and poor construction and workmanship that was often hidden by veneer and applied ornament.

William Morris started a rebellion against this trend, founding a company to demonstrate the superiority of quality handmade furniture. Honesty of the hand made joints was his feature of construction. This lead to the Arts and Crafts Movement on the 1880’s leading on to Art Nouveau. This drew attention to the merits of 18th Century furniture and led to the practice of purchasing second hand furniture and the antique shop began.

Overall the Victorian period saw the introduction of labor saving machinery which was misused due to high demand which caused a serious deterioration in design and construction.

Features of Victorian Furniture

Cumbersome furniture, dust catching carving.

Buttoned upholstery – armchairs frequently with low arms scrolled at the front.

Balloon back chairs and spoon back.

Thonet’s steam bent chair.

Abbotsford Chair inspired from Charles II era (Restoration)

Ladies easy chairs without arms because the vastness of the skirts.

Chesterfield – fat layer of well sprung upholstery named after the Earl of Chesterfield.

Later Victorian easy chairs removed the fully upholstered arms to help lighten up the appearance. Sometimes had a small drawer fitted in the front to hold a spittoon.

Telescopic Table c 1880 Strong and steady with bulbous turning.
Telescopic Table c 1880 Strong and steady with bulbous turning.

victorian thonet rocker
Victorian Thonet Rocker

  • Papier Mache chair. Boxes and trays but applied over a wooded frame for chairs.
  • Ottomans used in rooms which had bow windows or circular ends and picture galleries.
  • Smokers bow for houses, barbers shop, cottages and offices.
  • Worktable for games and sewing. Reflects Louis XIV style.
  • Davenport – lades writing desk.
  • Chest of drawers with wooden knobs – more to do with cheapness.
  • Chiffioniers used in dining and sitting rooms.
  • Lootable named after the fashionable card game.
  • Whatnot suited the over furnished rooms.
  • Sutherland table – a cross between a gateleg and Pembroke table very narrow, failing in proportion.
  • Gothic revival sideboard.
  • Telescopic table – strong steady table with bulbous turning. Solved the problem of leg room.
  • Sideboard contained back piece of mirror – mass produced in 1840.
  • Military desk – designed in three parts for traveling, sunken handles.
  • Brass bedstead – four poster with curtains started to disappear.



Whatnot c 1845


More information on Styles and Periods of Interior Decorating

Styles and Periods
Furniture History
Decorating Styles
Period Decoration
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