CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

Victorian Furniture Styles and Identifiers

In the world of furniture, there are many different styles that derive from various furniture periods. From Federal styles to Georgian styles, the designs are endless. But what about Victorian furniture styles? What makes Victorian furniture stand out? Let’s trace back its history and find out.

 
Victorian Brass Hardware Collector’s Cabinet. Circa 1880. M.S. Rau.
 
Victorian Brass Hardware Collector’s Cabinet. Circa 1880. M.S. Rau.
 

 

Victorian Brass Hardware Collector’s Cabinet. Circa 1880. M.S. Rau.

 

 

The 63-year reign of beloved British monarch Queen Victoria oversaw a global step into modernity, and the world watched as industrialization and technology revolutionized the pace and quality of everyday life. London became the center of the world’s largest empire as Great Britain expanded its influence in Asia and Africa. National pride, an exceptionally prolonged period of peace often referred to as the Pax Britannica, and social reforms at home allowed British citizens to begin to enjoy the new age.

 

These changes and the growing pains that accompanied them affected every level of British society. New wealth led to new sensibilities, transforming traditional aesthetic interests in fine art, jewelry and furniture into a new emblematic royal style, still recognized and appreciated fondly today. Much like Victorian jewelry styles, Victorian style furniture remains particularly prized for its elegance and refinement. Read on to discover how to identify this iconic style and how it is unique from other royal eras.

What is Victorian furniture?

 
English Mahogany Expanding Table. Circa 1850. M.S. Rau.
 
English Mahogany Expanding Table. Circa 1850. M.S. Rau.
 

 

English Mahogany Expanding Table. Circa 1850. M.S. Rau.

 

 

Largely coinciding with Queen Victoria’s rule from 1837 to 1901, few periods of history have been as impactful as the Victorian age, and the unique Victorian furniture style remains a lasting example of its significance. This style, developed by British furniture makers and fabricators during the 19th century, exudes a trademark sophistication and elegance. These designers welcomed the new age with a distinctive aesthetic, moving away from Georgian era furniture and Federal style furniture of previous decades to embrace dark woods, luxurious embellishments and a sense of ornate grandeur. Victorian furniture pieces are often described as imposing or heavy and tends to be rather monumental in scale or decoration. Furthermore, the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution ushered in new interests in mechanical furniture, and many Victorian cabinetmakers incorporated these interests into innovative designs known as “patent furniture.” An example of this ingenuity can be seen in the expanding table above designed by Robert Jupe.

How can you distinguish Victorian Era furniture?

So, how can you tell if you've found an authentic Victorian piece of furniture? In lieu of production details, the untrained eye may find it difficult to tell if a piece of antique furniture is Victorian in style, which can be attributed to its rather eclectic influences. There are, however, a few telltale signs for identification that tie together the disparate elements of this timeless fashion.

 
Victorian Mahogany Rounded End Bar. Circa 1880. M.S. Rau, New Orleans.
 

 

Victorian Mahogany Rounded End Bar. Circa 1880. M.S. Rau, New Orleans.

 

 

Victorian furniture designers of the era drew on various influences, including elements of Gothic, Tudor, Elizabethan, Renaissance, English Rococo and Neoclassical styles. With such varied and rich inspirations, it is no surprise that furniture in the Victorian style tends to have ample ornamentation. An example of this attention to detail can be seen in the Victorian rounded end bar above, which features carved acanthus leaves and floral accents that pair beautifully with the inlaid stained glass and etched mirrors.

 
Victorian Library Table by Holland and Sons. Circa 1850. M.S. Rau, New Orleans.
 
Victorian Library Table by Holland and Sons. Circa 1850. M.S. Rau, New Orleans.
 

 

Victorian Library Table by Holland and Sons. Circa 1850. M.S. Rau, New Orleans.

 

 

The type of wood utilized may also indicate that the furniture originated in the Victorian period. Mahogany and rosewood were often considered the Victorian woods of choice, though oak was sometimes preferred for its symbolic significance as the national tree of England. A high gloss finish was also a staple in Victorian furniture, as seen in the library table above, crafted by the renowned firm Holland and Sons circa 1850. This table again features the trademark mahogany wood, along with gilt brass mounts and a tooled leather writing surface. Visually appealing and reminiscent of a bygone time, Victorian tables continue to reflect the refinement of their time even over a century later.

What is the difference between Victorian and Edwardian furniture?

After Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, her son King Edward VII ascended to the throne. The king, already part of the fashionable elites that comprised the upper echelons of British society, also drew much inspiration from the finery of continental Europe and the Belle Époque. With the arrival of a new century and a new royal era, furniture styles transformed yet again.

 

Edwardian furniture took key inspiration from the Victorian age, leaving a sense of continuity between the two reigns. While Victorian design indulged in dark woods, Edwardian furniture preferred a lighter finish, looking towards new materials like bamboo and wicker. While Edwardian style furniture moved away from the heavy adornment and carving of the previous era, there was still an interest in decoration, often including inlaid metals.

 

One of the longest reigning monarchs in British history, Queen Victoria’s royal furniture style still brings a dignified grandeur reminiscent of the splendor of her times. With its recognizable features, skillful craftsmanship and connection to this romantic period of history, the antique Victorian furniture style remains prized by collectors today.

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