April 04, 2019 5 min read
The antique market accounted for a staggering $2 billion in the United States last year. Rich with history and a story of their own, British vintage furniture pieces are among the most sought-after antiques in America.
Britain's antique furniture styles carry with them a long lesson in history. From the 16th century Elizabethan era all the way up to 20th-century art deco styles, Britain's history is made up of a lot more than castles and high tea.
Keep reading for 9 British antique styles that have made their way into the lives and homes of the modern day American.
Some consider the Elizabethan era to be the golden age of English history. This period not only played host to history's most famous playwright William Shakespeare, but it also ushered in notable and long-lasting design styles.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth I is to thank for the ornate designs we see on the legs of tables and beds. In fact, you can tell a lot about when an antique was made based on the design on their legs.
The Elizabethan era was the last of the Tudor period. The closure of this era made way for greater quantities in a variety of furniture styles. Many think this was due to inspiration from the styles of the English Renaissance.
English influence on American style began as early as The Jacobean period. Under the rule of King James I, styles were an extension of the Elizabethan era but known for being less ornamental and more practical in nature.
Jacobean design is said to have influenced the early American style of the Pilgrims, and is more commonly known in the US as Pilgrim style.
Though in the midst of the English Renaissance, King James I wasn't known for his exotic flare. From this era, you'll find boxier, sturdier pieces made from oak and pine.
Furniture started to get decorative again in 1660 at the dawn of the Restoration period. The rule of King Charles II brought along Dutch and French influences, attributing to the earliest of the Baroque style.
Going on to influence style for many years, Baroque design became famous for its use of velvet upholstery, floral patterns, ornate wood carvings and pieces made of walnut.
The William & Mary era was at the beginning of the 18th century and was notable for the invention of the daybed and the writing desk.
The Baroque styles brought to England in the Restoration period were further solidified in history by William & Mary. So much so, that the style of this time is more commonly known as Early Baroque.
The styles of the William & Mary period strayed away from the harsh, gothic feel of previous eras and ushered in more delicate embellishments. These flourishes became the norm for generations to follow.
The Queen Anne period is considered by some to be the peak of Baroque style. It took inspiration from Dutch and French neighbors while managing to create unique, quintessentially English pieces.
The furniture of this period was less ornamental but more designed. In pieces from the Queen Anne era, you'll find cushioned seats, cabriole legs, and a lot of curved lines.
The Georgian era stuck around for more than a century, seeing King George I, II, III, and IV to the throne. The sheer volume of time that went by under Georgian rule made it one of the most influential design styles in history.
The most important thing to note about the Georgian era was the beginning of the import of mahogany from South and Central America. It was also the period of famous designer Thomas Chippendale.
The early Georgian period wasn't too much different style-wise than the previous Queen Anne period. Except for the replacement of walnut by mahogany, most of the same design styles prevailed.
Another notable element of the early Georgian period was the influence of the Palladian style, originating from Italian artist Andrea Palladio. Based on the styles of ancient Rome, these styles were symmetrical and made use of columns and masks.
The mid-Georgian period saw a pushback against the Palladian style, mostly because it was too expensive for the growing middle class. The French style Rococo became more popular due to it being less architectural, lighter and curvier.
In late Georgian times, the ancient Greek and Roman-inspired neoclassical styles took over in popularity. The previously loved curvature of the Rococo style was replaced by straight lines and Palladian ornamentation was replaced with paintings.
The Georgian era enveloped many other historical design styles including Gothic Revival and Regency. If you see antique pieces with lion masks and metal paw feet, it's likely from the Regency period, or French Empire as it was known in France.
During Queen Victoria's 63-year reign, the industrial revolution began. This made way for a surge in style more in line with ordinary comfort and for the first time, furniture was produced with the customer in mind.
While this period favored comfort and accessibility over the intricate designs of styles past, the Victorian era still kept Elizabethan, Neoclassical and Rococo designs alive.
The Arts & Crafts style happened largely during the Victorian era and is thought to have started in rebellion to the large scale industrialization.
In contrast to the mass-produced comfort pieces, the Arts & Crafts movement consisted of medieval, Islamic, and Japanese designs and motifs famously propagated by John Ruskin and William Morris.
Art Nouveau happened around the same times as the Arts & Crafts movement and was similar in many ways, though more decorative and luxurious, taking inspiration from Persian and Chinese design styles.
Though not considered by many to be the most interesting design era, the Edwardian period is worth mentioning as it brought back elements of the past's many popular styles.
This is when design started veering away from the dark, heavy furniture of the Victorian era and began taking on the lighter, floral designs of Baroque origin.
The Edwardian era is more known for encompassing past periods of design than contributing anything new.
The most modern design style we'll discuss here, Art Deco started in France in the early 20th century and had a wide influence in England and America.
Consisting of bold lines, geometric shapes, and vivid colors, Art Deco is still to this day a popular design style both in modern and classic art, furniture, and architecture.
The most important thing to note when trying to identify antiques is that machine-made furniture wasn't in existence until the late 19th century. Any genuine antique would have been hand made.
Look closely at where the pieces join together. It's likely a genuine antique if it has spaced out, uneven joiners rather than precise, closely spaced ones. You can also tell a lot by the type of hardware used.
Identifying an antique takes a keen eye for detail. Style, material, and method of creation are the main ways to tell if a piece is authentically vintage.
We know we just threw a lot of information at you. To summarize, British antique furniture styles range from dark and simple to colorful and ornate, and each piece has its own special place in history.
Check out our collection of antique reproduction furniture. We at English Georgian America are passionate about historical design and we hope this conveys in our work.