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18th Century Georgian Era Interior Design and Furniture Styles

Ancient art and architecture are not only for historians but for people like us who’ve always been interested in periodic art and crafts.

A typical Georgian Era dining room set up

A typical Georgian Era dining room set up

The Georgian era spanned a little over a century, following closely after the Queen Anne era of 1702–1714. It began in Britain around 1714 and lasted until the 1830s under the reigns of Kings George I, II, and III. The Georgian era consisted of three periods:

  1. Early (1714–1750)
  2. Middle (1750–1770)
  3. Late (1170–1810)

The arts and interior design styles of the British Georgian era were loved and adopted by the elites, well-travelled, and affluent 18th century Americans. By 1720, Georgian style interiors and furnishings became the trend for the rich and noble and the wealthier farmers and small landowners soon joined the trend. This new era found people introducing styles typically found in European homes into their own.

As the early-18th century brought on a new social lifestyle that included lavish tea parties, book collecting, and parlour games, it also brought with it a style-consciousness that made people decorate and furnish their homes, not only for function and efficiency but for aesthetic merits as well.

18th Century British Georgian Period Interiors

During the reigns of King George I, and part of King George II, architectural materials, which tended to be heavy in proportion and detail, was made basically from pine and walnut. As people began to take more interest in the comfort and appearance of their home interiors, many became art, craft, and furniture collectors.

In the earlier years, interiors had architectural details. Fireplaces built with dwarf columns. Architraves, friezes, and ornate marble mantle pieces. Huge doorways and high ceilings in well-proportioned rooms. And stone and marble floors that tied in nicely with the extravagance of the period.

By mid-18th Century, there was a Gothic revival movement style with interior features like fan-ribbed vaulting, medieval tomb-like detailing, and tracery patterning. This style extended to the outdoor gardens – pagodas, gazebos, sheltered seats, pavilions, and colonnades (porches and arcades).

Features of Georgian interiors are:

  • Interior wall panelling made with knotty pine wood.
  • Wallpaper. It became a substitute for earlier wall coverings.
  • Faux tapestries and marble wall finishes.
  • Scenic and pictorial papers with Chinese themed designs.

The early Georgian colours were bold baroque colours like burgundy and sage green used extensively in the past. By the mid-Georgian Era, colour schemes became pale tones like soft greys, dusty pinks, and flat white.

Furniture pieces were typically curvilinear chairs, tables, chests, and tall cabinets with ornate motifs. They were heavily lacquered and produced exclusively from rich dark red mahogany wood. Because of the Oriental influence, wooden chests and shelves were decorated with Chinaware objects like teapots, teacups, figurines, and ornate vases.

By the Mid-Georgian Era during the reign of George II, there was a leaning towards lighter-sized furniture and furnishings. It was a time that saw the birth of Chippendale furniture styles produced by the famous London cabinet maker, Thomas Chippendale. His furniture designs were inspired by classic French, Chinese, Gothic, and Louis XV structures, forms and ornamentation.

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. Preceding the American Georgian period of 1720-1790 was the Early American Era (1608-1720). The period was characterized by unpretentious furniture and modest interior layouts. There was little thought for comfort and much less for aesthetics.

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By the early 1700s, there grew awareness for beauty and comfort, and people became more conscious of style and sophistication. Architectural forms and furniture styles were copied from the English. They produced more accurate copies of Queen Anne, early Georgian, Sheraton, Hepplewhite, and Chippendale forms. Despite an initial lack of scale and proportion and unsymmetrical treated walls, the Southern States soon became more advanced in interior design and furnishing than the rest of the country.

The main features of American Georgian interiors are:

  • Larger rooms and higher ceilings.
  • Architectural features - columns, pilasters, and entablatures.
  • Architraves, friezes, and cornices.
  • Floor to ceiling wood wall panelling.
  • Interior doors framed with architraves (moldings) and triangular pediments.
  • Arched wall openings.
  • Elaborately carved mantles built with stylish pediments.
  • Fireplace openings trimmed with projecting bolection moldings.
  • Ornate pilasters.
Wall Murals

Wall Murals

From the mid-1700s, plaster walls were painted white. Some homeowners painted their wood-panelled walls in hues like pearl, brown, cream, greyish-blue, mustard, and white. Graining and marbling were also used occasionally. Pictorial and scenic wallpaper with all-over patterns were used in many homes.

In the mid to the late-18th century, cabinet makers and furniture designers became famous for their remarkable ability to reproduce English period furniture. At this time, the Georgian style was (unlike former eras) more thoughtful of designs, form, proportion, and scale. Unlike the crude copies of Jacobean, Carolean and William & Mary styles made exclusively with local wood, furniture makers opted more for well-selected woods like mahogany, maple, satinwood, cherry, and Virginia walnut. And just like the British furniture styles of the same era, curved lines dominated furniture designs. Chairs came with cabriole, club-foot, and claw and ball form legs. There were:

  • Lacquered China cabinets for precious collections.
  • Tilt-top tables, slant-top desks and secretaries.
  • Consoles and knee-hole tables.
  • Upholstered day beds, sofas, and couches.
  • Tall case clocks.
  • Framed beveled-glass mirrors.
  • Collections of imported Chinaware, earthenware, and porcelain.

Common Features of British and American Georgian Interiors

The following list contains some of the features you will find in Georgian era styled British and American interiors:

  • Roman-style columns, Corinthian, Ionic and Doric.
  • High ceilings.
  • Sash windows.
  • Alcoves and niches.
  • Carved sculptures of Roman gods, goddesses, and mythical figures
  • Vases and urns.
  • Swags, ribbons, garland and shield and urn motifs.
  • Pastel colour schemes – often soft grey, pea green, and white.
  • Stonework and marble.
  • Wall and floor stenciling and wallpaper with simple Oriental designs.
  • Wall murals that depict picturesque scenes and landscape.
  • Wrought iron works.
  • White decorative plaster works.
  • Animal figures – satyrs, dolphins, gryphons, and sphinxes used as bases or handles.
  • Intricate (without being overtly grandiose) moldings.
  • Elegant furniture made with soft fabrics.
  • Extensive wall paneling.

Common Features of 18th Century British/American Georgian Furniture

Chairs

Wing chairs and chairs with hoops or shield backs are typical of Georgian furniture. Chairs were designed with cabriole legs and referred to as the bandy. This style was soon followed by the ball and claw foot. The fiddle back chair or Queen Anne splat back chair was also introduced during the American Georgian period. Sofas, couches and daybeds were quite common furniture items. They were upholstered stylishly and adorned with loose cushions. The roundabout chairs became trendy items of furnishing.

Tables

Tables comprised knee-hole tables and desks, tilt-top pie-crust tables, consoles, and 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 to be stored away somewhere in the room until needed.

Soft Furnishing

Soft furnishings were majorly made with glazed cotton Chintzy fabrics. These were 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 the fabrics. These were only removed for special occasions.

Cabinetry

Cabinets and cabinetry works were some of the most popular items of furniture you will find in homes. They had cabinets to display precious tour collections of imported porcelain and earthenware. There were sideboards, bureaux and bookcases, and China and linen cabinets. Most of these cabinets came with scroll or triangular pediments. Earlier designs featured the cabriole legs with lion paws, club foot, and the claw-and-ball foot.

Bedroom Furniture

Bedroom furniture had distinct styles and uses. They consisted of high-boys, chests, low-boys, chest on chests, bureaux and four-poster beds. The quality of poster beds depends on both wealth and status. Luxury quilts were stuffed with down (un-plucked) feathers collected from bird’s nests. These valuable quilts made of silk, linen or cotton were much sought after. People of the Georgian period might have used bed-warmers as well.

Wash Area

Because there were no specific rooms for bathing or washing, ornate basins filled with water were placed on small chests set by the bed. No doubt there would also have been chamber pots in dedicated cupboards for night-time use.

Curvilinear furniture designs were very prominent in both countries during the 18th century Georgian Period. They generally came with rich and detailed carvings of French origin applied to even the tiniest areas. Many of these traditional furniture items have become highly valued collectables today. Many of them are still owned by prominent Pennsylvania families. They still carry the labels of the original furniture makers.

Resources

  • Interior Design and Decoration by Sherrill Whiton

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 artsofthetimes

Comments

artsofthetimes (author) on August 30, 2019:

You are welcome Anita.

Anita on August 30, 2019:

Love all the information ! thanks

artsofthetimes (author) on November 02, 2011:

Thank you Ann, and thanks a bunch for visiting.

Cheers

annmackiemiller from Bingley Yorkshire England on November 02, 2011:

very interesting - voted up

artsofthetimes (author) on November 02, 2011:

**Thank you JENNIFER, and thanks for stopping by.

**Thank you SANNEL, and thank you for your nice comments. GodBless

SanneL from Sweden on November 02, 2011:

I enjoyed reading this hub about the Georgian period of Americas history! I will definitely come back and read all you're other interesting hubs.

Thank you!

Sannel

Jennifer Mullett from Canada on November 01, 2011:

Nice work!!!

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