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What Is Edwardian Furniture?

T. Alaine
T. Alaine

The styles of furniture that were crafted during the Edwardian period of English history are commonly referred to as Edwardian furniture. Unlike many other historical periods that are associated with certain styles, the Edwardian era produced a very eclectic variety, and is not strictly tied to defining stylistic elements. In fact, Edwardian furniture is best known for being produced to resemble styles from other eras. Besides eclecticism, the most persistent characteristic of Edwardian furniture is a distinct revolt against the heavy, formal Victorian styles that preceded it.

King Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, reigned in England from 1901 to 1910, and therefore this time period is referred to as the Edwardian period. Historically, this historical period is generally viewed as a more free-spirited departure from the dark, rigid, and restrictive Victorian era that characterized the times of the previous monarch. English culture began to shift into a much more mobile, multi-faceted, eclectic society; these attitude changes are reflected in the furniture designs of the Edwardian period.

Wicker was introduced during the Edwardian period.
Wicker was introduced during the Edwardian period.

While Victorian era furniture is dark, extremely ornate, and heavy, Edwardian furniture generally adopts a much lighter, less formidable aesthetic. Mahogany is a popular wood found in Edwardian styles, and lighter materials such as wicker and bamboo were also introduced during this period. A further extension of the characteristic stylistic lightness is noticeable in fabric choices; upholstery appears less frequently, and when it does, the fabrics are generally pale in color with delicate floral patterns.

Stylistic elements such as “light” and “eclectic” seem suspiciously vague, but this is because the Edwardian period was influenced by so many other styles that those are the few cohesive themes. While the majority of Edwardian furniture is distinctly more delicate and airy than Victorian furniture, this style also borrows heavily from the designs of other historical periods. One of the most popular influences associated with Edwardian furniture is art nouveau, but features of neoclassical, Georgian, and Tudor furniture are also evident, among others.

The Edwardian period, particularly in the case of furniture, was known for reviving formerly popular styles and mixing them together to create distinctly modern pieces that were still reminiscent of earlier designs. Revivalism and reproduction were two important features of furniture design during this period, and the pieces often combined stylistic elements from different countries and times. Eclecticism to this extent can make identifying Edwardian furniture difficult, as many of the pieces incorporate designs from other distinct historical periods.

How To Identify Edwardian Furniture

Edwardian refers to the style of furniture developed directly after the Victorian era, when King Edward held the throne. Edwardian furniture is often contrasted with and compared to that of the Victorian era, which is known for having heavy fabric, dark-colored wood, and lavish carvings in the wood and other elements of the furniture.

The furniture developed during a particular era is often a reflection of what society was doing during that period. Edwardian furniture can usually be identified by the following characteristics:

  • The use of inlays, which are the pieces of precious metals, diamonds, or colored wood that are used to decorate furniture
  • The introduction of lighter materials such as bamboo and wicker
  • The use of mahogany, maple, walnut, and lighter colored woods 
  • Clean, simple lines
  • Pieces that are easy to transport
  • Floral designs throughout the pieces

The Edwardian era was a unique time for furniture. It not only borrowed heavily from other generations but saw the bridge between manual craftsmanship and mass production as manufacturing began to be used to create items. Edwardian furniture can be a bit difficult to identify because it borrows so heavily from other periods and is very eclectic in nature. However, being aware of certain traits that tend to be shared among pieces of the Edwardian style can be greatly helpful for identifying furniture of this era.

Standouts of the Edwardian Period

Two of the most well-known designers of this period are Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Mackintosh, from Scotland, was known for his architecture that included contrasting elements of right angles and subtle curves, as well as his watercolor paintings of landscapes and flowers. Tiffany, an American, was known for his work in interior design, including redecorating the White House under President Chester Arthur. Tiffany also produced stained glass windows and lamps, including windows for churches located in New York City, Boston, and Providence, Rhode Island.

Becoming familiar with the works of these two designers can be incredibly helpful in learning how to identify Edwardian furniture. Their designs may even be available in antique shops to this day.

What Period Is Edwardian Furniture?

The Edwardian period is named after King Edward, who reigned from 1901 until 1910. Thus, Edwardian furniture refers to pieces produced during this short period of nine years. The Edwardian era was characterized by prosperity in both England and the United States, marked by a rise in manufacturing, technological advances, and the use of the automobile. Other traits of this era include:

  • A rise in the number of women urging the importance of suffrage and other rights to be more equal to men
  • An increase in international tensions, which eventually led to World War I and II
  • A continuation of the Industrial Revolution, which saw an increase in the number of factories producing goods quickly and efficiently
  • The beginning of aviation and the rise of the automobile, with the automobile allowing people to travel farther distances faster and more efficiently than ever before 
  • The rising popularity of electricity 

These characteristics of the Edwardian period are reflected in the furniture produced during this period. For example, the rise in travel among ordinary citizens and the free-spirited nature of this era are thought to be two of the reasons why Edwardian furniture is lighter in weight than the furniture of previous generations, specifically the Victorian era. The introduction and increasing use of electricity made the production of unique lampshades possible, including shades containing materials that would have been too flammable to use with an open flame.

What Was Edwardian Furniture Made Of?

Mahogany was one of the most popular woods used to make furniture during the Edwardian era. Mahogany is reddish-brown in color and very durable. Today, mahogany is used to make high-quality furniture. Europe sourced much of their mahogany during the Edwardian period from Cuba, Haiti, and other Caribbean regions, but mahogany quickly became difficult to obtain.

The Edwardian period also saw a rise in the use of bamboo and wicker. These materials are light in both color and weight, which are very much characteristic of designs produced during this time period. Bamboo and wicker were used in items such as tables, chairs, and bookcases and gave a sense of delicacy that was popular for the furniture of this time.

Chairs and other pieces of furniture did not commonly contain upholstery during the Edwardian period, but when upholstery was used, the fabric had light, pastel colors as well as floral patterns or animal themes. Popular colors included light blue, lilac, yellow, green, and gray.

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    • Wicker was introduced during the Edwardian period.
      By: kornienko
      Wicker was introduced during the Edwardian period.