Furniture design tends to follow the trends in architectural and interior design. Historically, a furniture style displays both the general concept and specific details of its own period. The furniture of the Middle Ages exhibits Gothic details, that of the Renaissance elements from classical antiquity. Typical Victorian furniture has a vertical proportion and elaborate and fussy details, while modern furniture generally appears simple in both form and detail.
The terminology of furniture styles can be confusing, as some terms referring to historic periods and other terms describing an approach to design are used in ways that overlap. The modern habit of reproducing furniture designs from the past generates some of this confusion. The term Colonial, for example, describes both actual antiques from the Colonial era and modem reproductions of Colonial designs.
Modern logically means nothing more than recently produced, but the term has come to designate a particular style as well. Sorting out this tangle demands careful use of the terms discussed below.
This term refers only to furniture made over a hundred years ago (according to the definition used by U.S. Customs) in the particular style then current. Dealers and galleries that deal in antique furniture usually reserve the term for examples of good quality, often called fine antiques. As the years go by, old furniture that was once scorned often comes to be appreciated and valued. Country antiques can still be found at reasonable prices, and good antiques are sometimes, surprisingly, no more expensive than reproductions.
Truly fine antiques, considered to be of museum quality, have become very costly; they are selected and bought as much for their investment potential as for their use as furniture. These should only be purchased from reputable dealers, galleries, or auction houses.Many excellent designs made less than a hundred years ago may be highly valued and sought after. These are generally covered by the term collectibles, which also applies to a great variety of old objects including both very costly one-of-a-kind pieces and inexpensive mass-produced items.
- Reproductions of Antiques and Collectibles
These recently made objects reproduce the design of antique originals, more or less accurately. Good reproductions are extremely accurate copies of particular examples of fine antiques. Makers sometimes go so far as to create finishes (called distressed in the trade) that imitate the effects of wear, down to such details as false wormholes.
Many designers frown on the use of reproductions, regarding them as a form of fakery that is dishonest when it truly deceives, foolish when it fails to deceive. Designer and client must judge this issue according to a particular context. For example, reproduction captains chairs in a restaurant designed in a particular style may seem easier to accept than a brand-new imitation Chippendale breakfront in a living room.
Whatever may be said of quality reproductions, bad reproductions, often called imitations, which are far more common, are an insult to any sensitive observer. Crude designs labeled "Colonial maple," television cabinets of baroque design reproduced in plastic, and the furniture of nonexistent "periods" such as "Mediterranean" are unacceptable for use in interiors of any genuine design quality.
Logically, this should mean anything new or recent, but it has come to refer to design that is new in concept, particularly the design of the twentieth century related to modern art and committed to simplicity, functional performance, and technology. More specifically, it identifies the stylistic directions (also called International Style) exemplified by the Bauhaus.
Increasingly, we hear the terms early modern (1900 to the 1920s or 1930s) and classic modern (for certain famous designs that have lasted for many years) to distinguish them from truly recent designs.Modern furniture (that is, new in concept) has come to be widely used in commercial, institutional, and office interiors. Its residential design use in the United States is still limited to professionals in the design fields and a small public aesthetic and intellectual interest in modern art and architecture. After decades of being exposed to it, however, the general public has become increasingly accepting to modern art and design, as evidenced by the products illustrated in consumer magazines and sold in retail furniture stores.
This simply means "of or in the style of the present or recent times." It should be an umbrella term to refer to whatever is being made now, but it is generally used to refer to design that, on the one hand, do not reproduce antiques, and on the other, do not belong to the category known as modern. In the furniture trade, it usually means a current design with no strong stylistic character, furniture that can blend in with almost anything else. The term transitional, also sometimes used, is misleading since such designs are not truly between, any two identifiable stylistic directions.
As a term and a design concept, Post-modern is still so new that its exact meaning has yet to be defined. It refers to designs whatever design trends follow the modern style discussed above, but so far the new directions explored by designers have led to separate paths rather than a coherent center. More specifically, Post-modern refers to the recent design trend that rejects the strictly functional and logical criteria of the modern movement in order to introduce elements of whimsy, variety, and, at times, absurdity. References to historical precedents in a contemporary vocabulary or context are not uncommon.
Craft and Art Furniture
Recent years have seen an upsurge in interest in handcrafted furniture designed and made by craftsmen, either by hand or with limited shop equipment. Their furniture displays a wide range of construction and design. Of course, even the finest craft skills do not assure good design skills. At its best, craft furniture is both useful and interesting, and may take on some of the qualities of an individual work of art as well. This latter quality comes to the fore when artistes choose to make objects of furniture vehicles for artistic creativity. The level of usefulness varies, as does the quality of the artistic expression involved. While furniture as art is generally costly and often individualistic to the point of eccentricity, it opens up a relatively new and adventurous channel of expression for the interior.
This can include fine antiques, simpler old furniture, modern furniture that has become collectible, and any other furniture that is already a valued possession for reuse. However, mostselections will be made from furniture in regular production. It can be inspected in a shop, store, or showroom. Manufacturers catalogs illustrate available pieces and give fairly complete data on dimensions, construction, and available finishes, and often include suggestions about planning and layout as well. Production furniture comes in a wide range of quality and price levels and in a vast variety of styles.
Using a reputable manufacturer and dealer offers some assurance of quality and of repairs, service, and replacements over a period of time. The possibility of both viewing and "trying out" an actual sample in shop or showroom before making a purchase can safeguard against unhappy surprises, giving both designer and client or user security about a decision that can involve large expenditures.
In exchange for these advantages, one gives up having furniture exactly fitted to specific needs and accepts the closest available standard solution. One must also accept seeing the same designs in other places, in some cases to the point of boredom with what may become a current cliche. Manufacturers do their best to minimize monotony by offering a maximum variety of designs, optional details, and finishes.