Georgian Period Interiors: 18th Century Furniture and Interior Design
The Georgian period that began in Britain around 1714 and later in America in 1720 ushered in an awakening and love for the beautiful things of life. The people expressed this through both their lifestyles and the interiors of their homes.
Georgian art and style spanned a little over a century starting in 1714 and lasting into the 1830's under the reigns of Kings George I, II, and III. In Britain, it was divided into three periods: Early (1714 to 1750), Middle (1750 to 1770), and Late (1170 to 1810). Georgian periods following closely after the Queen Anne era of 1702 to 1714.
The arts and interior design styles of the British Georgian era were loved and adopted by the elites, the well-travelled, and affluent 18th century Americans. By 1720 it became the trend-setters of the Georgian style interiors and furnishings. The wealthier farmers and small landowners soon joined the trend of introducing classic forms and styles typically found in European homes into their own interpretation of interior design.
As the early-18th century brought on a new social lifestyle that included tea parties, building book collections, and parlour games, it brought with it a style consciousness that made people buy and decorate their homes with furniture and furnishings not only for their function, but also for aesthetic merits.
Georgian Period Interiors in 18th-Century Britain
During the reigns of King George I and a portion of that of King George II, architectural materials, which tended to be heavy in proportion and detail, were made basically from pine and walnut. As people began to take more interest in the comfort and appearance of their home’s interiors, many became art and craft collectors of sorts.
In the early years of the 18th century, interiors had complete architectural details. Fireplaces came with dwarf columns, architraves, frieze, and projecting cornices that formed the ornate marble mantlepiece. Architectural elements were introduced in their interiors – large doorways, high ceilings, sculptures, and well-proportioned rooms, while stone and marble floors tied in nicely with the extravagance of the period.
By the middle of the century, there was a Gothic revival movement that ushered in interior features like fan-ribbed vaulting, details of medieval tombs, and tracery patterns. This style extended to the outdoor gardens—pagodas, gazebos, sheltered seats, pavilions, and colonnades (porches and arcades).
Georgian interiors came with interior wall panelling made with knotty pine wood and wallpaper became a substitute for wall coverings. Paper imitating tapestries and marble-like paper was extensively used as wall finishes and by the end of the century was replaced by scenic and pictorial papers with Chinese-themed designs.
Furniture pieces were typically curvilinear chairs, tables, chests, etc., with motifs. The use of heavy lacquer and were produced exclusively with rich dark red mahogany wood and because of an Oriental influence chests and shelves were covered with Chinaware objects like teapots, teacups, figurines, and vases among other things.
By the Mid-Georgian era during the reign of George II, there was a tendency towards lighter proportions in furniture styles and interior design. This was also when the Chippendale furniture styles emerged. They were produced by the famous London cabinet maker, Thomas Chippendale. His designs were influenced by classic French, Chinese, Gothic, and Louis XV forms and ornamentation.
Colour schemes were pale tones like soft greys, dusty pinks, and flat white, though the early Georgian colours were influenced by bold baroque colours of the past era such as burgundy and sage green.
18th-Century American Georgian Era Interiors
Although interior art and design styles of America pre-19th century often come under the heading ‘colonial’, there are more specific sub-divisions for the period styles produced. Preceding the American Georgian period of 1720-1790 is the Early American Era (1608-1720) which was characterised by unpretentious interiors and furniture designs, with little thought for aesthetics or comfort.
By the beginning of the American Georgian era, there was an increase in awareness of beauty and comfort, and there was an increase in sophistication. Soon, Georgian architectural forms and furniture designs were copied from the English styles. They were able to produce more accurate copies of Queen Anne, early Georgian, Sheraton, Hepplewhite, and Chippendale forms.
The interiors of this period comprised of larger rooms and higher ceilings with architectural features like columns, pilasters, entablatures comprising architraves, friezes, and cornices. These features that were originally typical of exteriors only where ‘brought’ into the interiors of Georgian homes.
Despite the initial lack of proper scale and proportion and unsymmetrical treated walls, the South soon became more advanced in interior design than the other areas of America.
Interior walls were wood panelled from floor to ceiling, doors framed with architraves (mouldings), and triangular pediments. Wall openings were arched and so were niches and built-in cabinets. Elaborately carved mantles were built with well-designed pediments, fireplace openings were trimmed with projecting decorative bolection mouldings, and attractive pilasters were spaced around the room.
From the mid-18th century, plaster walls were finished with plain paint. Some also painted their panelled walls in hues like pearl, brown, cream, greyish-blue, mustard, and white. Graining and marbling were also used occasionally while pictorial and scenic wallpaper with all-over patterns were used in many homes.
In the mid to late-18th century, cabinet makers and furniture designers became famous for their remarkable ability to reproduce English period furniture. Now, Georgian style was, unlike the former eras, more thoughtful of designs, form and scale. And unlike the crude copies of Jacobean, Carolean and William & Mary styles made exclusively with local wood, furniture makers had most of their furniture pieces produced from well-selected mahogany wood, maple, satinwood, cherry, and Virginia walnut.
Just like the British furniture of the same era, curved lines dominated in the designs of furniture. Chairs came with the cabriole and club-foot legs and the claw and ball form legs. There were lacquered China cabinets for precious collections, tilt-top tables, slant-top desks and secretaries, consoles, knee-hole tables, and upholstered daybeds, sofas, and couches. Décor items include tall case clocks, framed bevelled-glass mirrors, and collections of imported chinaware earthenware, and porcelain items.
Some Main Features of Georgian Period Interiors
Popular Georgian era features in interior design, furniture styles, and finishing types include:
- Roman style columns (Corinthian, Ionic and Doric)
- High ceilings
- Sash windows
- Alcoves and niches
- Carved sculptures of Roman gods and goddesses
- Vases and urns
- Swags, ribbons, and garland motifs
- Shield and urn motifs
- Classical figures
- Pastel (subtle) colour scheme – often soft greys, pea greens and whites
- Wall and floor stencilling
- Wallpaper with simple Oriental designs
- Wall murals depicting picturesque scenes and landscape
- Wrought iron works
- White plasterworks
- Animal figures – satyrs, dolphins, griffins and sphinxes used as bases or handles
- Intricate mouldings - but not grandiose
- Elegant furniture with soft fabrics
- Mural decorations
- Extensive wall panelling
Typical Furniture Designs of the 18th Century Georgian Era
Curvilinear furniture designs were very prominent and a certain amount of rich detailed carvings of French origin were applied to even the small surface areas.
Many of these traditional furniture items have become highly valued collectables today with a great number of them still owned by prominent Pennsylvania families, many of them still carrying the labels of the original furniture makers.
Wing chairs and chairs with hoop or shield backs are typical of Georgian furniture. Chairs were designed with cabriole legs and referred to as the bandy, and this style was soon followed by the claw and ball foot. The fiddle back chair or Queen Anne splat back chair was also introduced during the American Georgian period. Sofas, couches and daybeds were common pieces that were upholstered stylishly and adorned with loose cushions, and roundabout chairs became trendy items of furnishing
Tables comprised knee-hole tables and desks, tilt-top pie-crust tables, consoles, pier tables. The reproductions were usually accurate but frequently varied in proportion and detail. Desks with cabinet tops and secretaries with slant lids were intricately made and very popular at this time. There were gate-leg tables that fold down to the size of small consoles; breakfast tables with tops that tilt up and fold over so that they can be stowed away somewhere at the side of the room until needed.
Soft furnishings were majorly made with glazed cotton fabrics have been used for both upholstery and window treatments with pagoda-style pelmets. Armchairs and divans often had loose covers made from cheap ticking or striped linen to protect fabrics which were removed whenever they had special occasions.
Cabinets and cabinetry works were one of the most popular items of furniture you’ll find in homes. They had cabinets to display their precious tour collections of imported porcelain and earthenware, then there were sideboards, bureaux and bookcases, China and linen cabinets just to mention a few. Most of these cabinets came with the scroll or triangular pediments. And examples of earlier designs featured the cabriole legs with lion's paw, club foot and the claw-and-ball foot.
Bedroom furniture had their own distinct style and uses and consisted of high-boys, chests, low-boys, chest on chests, bureaux and four-poster beds. The quality of their poster beds depended on how wealthy you are. They also had quilts that were stuffed with down collected from bird’s nests (not plucked). The valuable quilts made with silk, linen or cotton cases were much sought after by those who know their worth. People of the Georgian period might have used a bed warmer as well.
Because there was no specific room for bathing or washing, you’ll find an ornate basin placed on a small chest set by the bed. No doubt there would also have been a chamber pot in a cupboard, for night-time use.
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