Furniture was mostly made in the country and the construction was often very crude and basic; tables only had trestle supports and linen fold was a favourite design for carved panels. Genuine pieces are rare. The first real progress in furniture-making was during the reign of Henry VIII who encouraged foreign craftsmen to work in England. Most furniture was made of oak but chestnut, beech and cypress were also used. The transformation from Gothic influence and Renaissance style began around 1550.
This was the age of the Renaissance with new ideas and new ways of thinking. Oak was still the main wood, furniture legs were bulbous and chairs were either turned or wainscoted. The bible box appeared during this period and was the forerunner of the writing desk. The Gothic influence remained strong and was often manifest in the furniture of the period. Some of the carved work embodied arabesque designs as well as intricate interlacing strap work copied from the Flemish. During the latter part of Elizabeth's reign wooden seats were replaced with cushioned chairs, the credence developed into a sideboard and the oak chest into a settle.
Early Jacobean furniture, which was similar to Elizabethan furniture, was still largely made of oak and was sturdy, large and uncomfortable. Mule chests and long tables were a development in this era. Furniture became more comfortable under Charles I with the introduction of padded upholstery made from linen, tapestry and silk. The gate-legged table was developed and other furniture designs included inlay and veneer. Oak continued to be the main wood in use. Table tops were often round or oval and the back legs of chairs were nearly always turned. Grandfather clocks were introduced into England during the latter part of this era and chequer and herringbone inlay work was extensively used as were bone, ebony, ivory and mother of pearl. Marquetry was in considerable use in the later pieces. Oak furniture was treated with a dark varnish mixed with oil so that it sank into the wood and did not form a surface polish.
This was the beginning of an era of fine inlay and marquetry work with designs assuming more graceful outlines and needlework coverings becoming more widely used. "Oyster pieces" were often used in the veneer work and more Dutch and French craftsmen arrived in Britain influencing furniture designs. Oak chestnut and walnut were mainly used and some pieces were painted black and decorated with silk. Dutch Marquetry was widely used where the designs were inlaid into veneer groundwork and not carved out of solid wood as before. The "cabriole leg" first appeared during this period and clocks were surmounted by three brass-spiked balls.
Stretcher rails on chairs and settees were hardly used and herringbone, cross banding and ebony were used in the inlay work. Spiral turned work was widely used and the "Windsor" chair was introduced. Cabinet making was of a very high standard with fine needlework and damask materials being used for upholstery. Marquetry became more subdued and some gilding was introduced. Corner cupboards and interior fittings were often domed and the ball and claw foot and also the scroll and hoof were developed.
Known as "The Golden Age of Furniture" this period includes the designs of Thomas Chippendale, Robert Adam, George Hepplewhite, Sheraton and William Kent. Dutch influence gave way to French influence and the cabriole leg changed into a straight tapering leg. Chippendale changed the course of English furniture with his extensive design range and Walnut began to be replaced by Mahogany. Gilding and veneering were freely used by most cabinet makers, Oriental lacquered furniture became very fashionable and "Break Front" library bookcases were introduced.
Partly a reflection of French Empire designs, Regency furniture was elaborate and ornate with more curves and some elegant decoration. Rosewood was the main wood and brass and ormolu inlay was extensively used with French polishing came into fashion around 1810 giving smoother, shinier finishes to the new elegant pieces. Prominent designers of this era include Henry Holland, George Smith, Thomas Hope, Thomas Sheraton and Gillows. Features like Saber legs, reeding and lion paw feet were introduced and tilt top dining tables and pillared, extendable tables were developed. The most popular chair was the double sabre leg chair and the sofa and sofa table also became fashionable.
A German influence is noticeable in the furniture of this period with the style becoming heavier than the fine designs of the 18th Century. Mahogany, rosewood and satinwood were used and craftsmanship was paramount which produced some of the finest furniture ever made. Designers like Gillows, Holland, Morell & Seddon and Lamb, Wright & Mansfield used the best materials available to produce furniture fit for The Kings, Queens, Emperors, the Aristocracy and Gentlemen of The World. The Great Exhibition held in the Crystal Palace in 1851 brought Continental exhibitors to London but England and her Commonwealth took over half of the space available