Sample Paper on 18th Century Furniture vs. Mid Century Modern

Trends keep recurring. Fashion dies today and resurrects several years down the line probably in an improved version or exactly the same way it was. The dress codes, building styles, hairstyles as well as electronics seem to emulate the past through time. Furniture and interior design is not any different; currently, a number of homes have taken up the 18th century styles. People want ‘50s furniture thus the reason why many people are buying for fun and nostalgia. The mid century modern pieces are prized for their sleek minimalist designs rather than comfort. Most of the popular ancient designs were by Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Hans Wegner and Edward Wormley.[1] This paper focuses on comparing the mid century furniture or contemporary design and how it is influenced by antique 18th century styles. It also draws the relationship between the modern interiors today that also use antiques and how they relate.

Miller says that in her research of about twelve year she has noticed that most apartments and houses have an enduring presence of classical architecture decoration and ornament.[2]  She says that most domestic and civic interiors boast at the very least architectural fixtures and fittings that are inspired by classical prototypes while a very large numbers are entirely decorated and furnished in a classical style. The explanations for this interior design lie in the appealing symmetry and proportion that are a characteristic of Classical Greco-Roman Architecture, decoration, furniture and artifacts.

A further analysis of her works reveals that Andrea Palladio had immense effect on the development of Western Architecture from mid 16th century onward, in the work of English architect Inigo Jones in the 17th century and in the Palladian revival of the early 18th century.[3] His theories of architecture and design spread through the illustrations he gave that involved orders, domestic and public buildings and temples. The churches, palaces as well as the villas he designed were also influential.  They display elegance, serenity, harmony, and proportion.

Moreover, Miller says that the two distinct features of architecture ornament and decoration dominated the first of the 18th century: Palladianism and Rococo.[4] Palladianism was a classical revival that emerged in England at the beginning of the century as a reaction to the grandiose excesses of ornamentation of 17th century Baroque style. It was primarily based n the buildings and published observations of the 16th century Italian architect Andréa Palladio and 17th century English architect Inigo Jones. It was a classical Roman  style  which in its purest form was characterized by bold, austere and in the grandest houses massive architectural  elements such as temple front porticoes, giant orders rusticated masonry tripartite, arch topped venetian windows and vaulted (coffered ceilings). This style was massively adopted in Russia, Prussia and the United States towards that middle of the 18th century relied for effect in houses both large and small not open sheer scale but uniformity in terms of proportion and detail p 16.[5]

Rococo style emerged in France after the death of Louis XIV in 1715. It came about as a reaction to the excessively formal and overly heavy Baroque style that had flourished under his patronage since the late 1630s. The Early Rococo style was also known as Regence style since it developed from 1715-23 at a period when Due d’Orleans was Regent to the infant Louis XV. It was characterized by numerous ornaments that made use of diaper patterns in that they were repeated geometric patterns that were employed as a framework for motifs such as formalized flowers or leaves, light scrollwork, and scallop-shell motifs. It retained much of the classical symmetry of earlier baroque ornamentation. During the 1720s Rococo style became more extravagant and symmetrical. It was primarily used for interior decoration and later typified by softening of the angles of geometric patterns into carves or curls and adoption of exotic Chinese, Turkish and Indian imagery that were notably monkey motifs. All these styles were put together with naturalistic sprigs of foliage or flowers and with the abstract forms of rocaile (rock and shell work where Rococo drew its name from).

Although Rococo endured France till the death of Louis VX’S death it was widely adopted in Europe especially southern Germany and slightly in America in England because its frivolity was met with disapproval. P.16.[6] Robert Adam alongside his brothers James and John established the distinctive Adam or Neoclassical style of architecture, decoration and ornamentation during the second half of the 18th century. It was first fashionable in Britain and made an impact through pattern books in France, Italy, Germany and Russia. In America it formed the basis for the early Federal style. This style lay in buildings of Roman antiquity and the Italian Renaissance as well as in large repertoire of decorative elements from the ancient Greek and the Etruscan Vocabularies of ornament. The Adam style was lighter and more elegant than the earlier Palladian and later Greek revival styles. It was widely admired for the grandeur of its architectural affect, the subtlety in its use of motifs and the manner in which it successfully integrated the architecture of a building with its interior design. [7]

The English Regency, the period from 1811 to 1820 when George, Prince of Wales ruled England as the Prince Regent due to his father’s illness George III is the period when the Regency style emerged. It emerged during the rule of Prince George as early as the late 1780s and remained popular till the end of his reign as George IV in 1830. The regency style was inspired by the Prince of Wales passion for the neoclassical architecture and decoration that was fashionable in France during the reign of Louis XVI. The regency style was characterized by the refinement and grandeur of French Taste is used to decorate the interior of Prince London’s Residence. It was devised by architect Henry Holland and executed mainly by French craftsmen, they featured classically correct, predominantly rectilinear architectural embellishments- columns, pilasters, friezes and architraves these provided the perfect foil for the   accurate arrangement of mirror glass, crystal chandelier and fine French furniture.[8]

Towards the end of the 18th century, Regency style began to change as French empire style emerged under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte. It spreads quickly across Europe and afterwards in America. The English architects and designers drew heavily on French Empire style but did not entirely copy it. The French interiors were dominated by replications and adaptations of the architectural ornament of ancient Rome, Regency interiors combined Roman motifs and imagery with Greek equivalents and elements of Le Style Etrusque. Moreover the Napoleonic wars and the enmity between England  and France, Napoleonic motifs such as bee and the swan which were Napoleon’s and his wife  Josephine’s emblems they were not  adopted by the English.

More differences between the English Regency and the French Empire style were in the former’s incorporation of architectural elements such as pointed arches, window tracery and battlements that were taken from the Medieval Gothic Vocabulary of ornament. Exotic chinoisorie-based schemes were absent from French interiors they were present in the grander Regency houses in England though confined in one or two rooms. The common features to the English regency and French empire were the ancient Egyptian motifs and imagery such as palm trees and sphinxes whose popularity was fueled by the French and English military campaigns in North Africa and in England by Admiral Nelson’s victory over Napoleon’s navy at the battle of Nile in 1708.[9]

According to Kleiner, European fascinations with classical antiquity were fueled by the excavations of two ancient Roman cities on the Bay of Naples- Herculaneum and Pompeii.[10] The violent eruptions of Mount Vesuvius had buried both cities under volcanic ash and mud. The excavations revealed rich evidence for reconstructing Roman art and life. The 18th century excavations uncovered paintings, sculptures, furniture, vases and silverware in addition to buildings. This resulted in European interest in Rome as the European collectors acquired many newly discovered objects. The finds at Pompeii and Herculaneum became available to the public. The Pompeian style became the rage in England and was evident in the designs of Robert Adam that were inspired by the slim, straight lined elegant frescoes of the third and early fourth styles of Roman mural painting. The new neoclassical style almost displaced the curvilinear Rococo after midcentury. In the Etruscan room Adam took decorative motifs (medallion urns, vine scrolls, sphinxes and tripods) from Roman art and arranges them sparsely within broad neutral spaces and slender margins as in his ancient models. As an archeologist, Robert used the archeological finds for the garden and landscape design, fashion and tableware. Clothing based on classical garb became popular, floating and delicate Greek style drapery.[11]

Moreover, Kleiner says that one of the defining characteristics of the 18th century was the renewed admiration for classical antiquity.[12] This interest gave rise to Neoclassism which incorporated the styles of the ancient art, painting and sculpture and architecture.  Fascination with Greek and Roman culture was widespread and extended to the public culture of fashion and home décor.

The 18th century artistic interior decorative styles did not die down to waste. They are currently encompassed in our day to day home and office interior décor. Vickers says that few 21st century hotel guests would be satisfied with the standards of hospitality that prevailed 50 years ago and yet a popular appetite for the trappings of the past endures.[13] It may show itself in pastiches of antique design and decoration or in the notion of old style differential service or in the sort of hotel that embodies quality and style that exceeds the standards its guests enjoy at home. A hotel based on the image of the classic English country house can still boast its chic spa and health bar which are features that are incongruous to a real 18th century English country house as a mechanical bull.

In an analysis of the Grove hotel, Vickers says that it was originally the 18th century Hertfordshire mansion of the Earls of Clarendon.[14] It was initially built as a country house but currently known as London’s Country Estate. Vickers terms this as where city meets country and classic meets contemporary. It has a taste of tradition and especially the 18th century style with modern convenience. All of the hotel’s 227guest rooms and suites have modern facilities. The guest rooms in the original mansion retain original architectural features such as open fire places. The giant plasma TV may be the equivalent of the Venetian mirror. Has 18th century chest of drawers the guest rooms in the west wing are sleek and contemporary and pursue a slightly different theme drawing their proximity to the grounds they overlook. It also has incorporated photographs of leaves on to the Perspex cupboard doors are backlit to a dramatic effect.

According to McKellar, while the 18th century interior decorator paid close attention to ornamental elaboration, the architectural modernists sought to reduce the symbolic significance of the interior into functional space within the built structure, populated by minimal amount of furniture and furnishing.[15] For all these reasons and more it is not surprising that an analytical study of the interior has been so long in coming. Late modernism, deconstructivism and the emphasis on technology that were present in the 18th century are all evident in the current interior designs. It is possible to however observe a shift in emphasis that can be viewed as new and developing. In all past centuries, ulterior and interior design has been limited by the need to put paper the images that will direct what is to be produced in reality.

Neoclassism has recurred after the period between Post World War II towards the end of the 1980s. This rebirth is traced to the movement of New Urbanism and the post modern architectures embrace of classical elements as ironic especially due to the wave of modernism.  Previously some architects considered working with classism ironic; other architects such as Thomas Gordon Smith considered it seriously. Other schools were uninterested with Classism unlike the University of Virginia. In the earlier years of 1900s, classical architecture began and currently a good number of classical architects have been trained. Numerous buildings have embraced the neoclassical style thus giving anew shape to urban planning. For example, in the USA the 2006 Schermerhorn Symphony Center is a good example of neoclassical style. In Britain, the Quinlan Terry Maitland Robinson Library and ADAM Architecture’s Sackler Library have also illustrated this style

Modern furniture embracing the French styles is evident in sofas, beds, console tables among other furniture. They are made up of decorated wood carvings and soft natural decorative fabrics that make them look romantic, luxurious and seducing.  Modern interior designs have encompassed the use of solid wood cabinet and mirror frames with decorative ornaments with a vintage style that adds a French and unique flavor to them. The current fireplace design also has the uniqueness of the French style. The console tables on the other hand have a luxurious comfort of French Interior decorating. The rooms are decorated in shiny décor accessories that are made of glass and ceramics which are used to reflect light from chandeliers with crystal pendants. The sound of crystals blended with classic music alongside the aroma of roses that finalize the 18TH century French style to the contemporary interior designs.

Presently, the Baroque style is used in homes whereby the color palette is rich by the use of dark reds or green to emphasize on the gold features used to decorated mirrors, art and accessories.[16] The interiors are highly detailed including intricately carved wood accompanied by luxurious textiles used for the furniture, wall and window coverings. These fabrics often have floral patterns, the floors are also made up of wood or marble and some parts of the spaces left are covered with hand woven rugs.

The use of the American country style has also incorporated some of the 18th century interior décor. This is evident win the relaxed and comfortable rooms that have simple adornment. It encompasses American heritage through the use of traditional materials and country motifs.[17] Homes built using this style are often inviting, cozy and comfortable; they are often made of wood floors and stone or brick fireplaces. The spaces are covered with antique and other decorative elements such as pottery, carved wood, hand formed metal and baskets. The furniture is made of leather or soft fabrics in muted colors with floral or gingham patterns.

Moreover, the use of the traditional style offer comforting elegance and gracious living that adapts to the changing lifestyles. It is based on the styling techniques of the 18th and 19th century.[18] It involves finely crafted woodworking Queen Anne colors, Chippendale and Thomas Sheraton furniture. The fabrics used here are neither too shiny nor too textured, with solid tone-on-tone muted patterns.

The shabby chic style is a combination of the casual and romantic furnishings with antiques and elegant adornments. [19] The furniture is distressed to give it an aged appearance combined with antiques and overstuffed casual furnishings. They are generally dominated with white color, neutral colors and light floral fabrics to create an elegant and feminine space. Chandeliers, candles and antiques enhance the cozy and lived in appeal f this style.[20]

Another interior decorating style is the application of the eclectic style.[21] It is a modern interiors design that comprises   heterogeneous elements in that it mixes textures, time periods, styles, trends and colors. They marry the old and new, the antiques and contemporary.  It unifies diverse collections through color, scale and texture to make cohesive room or home. It uses antiques and modern furniture, artifacts from different countries and art collections are grouped together to create interest.

From the above discussion, it is evident that the ancient 18th century styles are still present in the modern day interior decorating styles.  By the use of the eclectic style, shabby chic style, traditional, baroque and American country styles, the 18the century style of art still lives with us. At the moment, many people today are willing to pay a fortune to have a taste of the ancient interior design styles in their homes.  An analysis of the photos given on the contemporary interior décor, we see that despite the fact that they incorporate the modern decorating styles, the use of the 18th century styles give them the enticing and comforting look as well as extraordinary beauty that they portray.  The use of the antiques, motifs, sculptures and motifs though ignorable to those uninterested in art are the cornerstone to the beauty of any room


Gowans, Alan. 1981. Learning to see: historical perspective on modern popular/commercial arts. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press.

Miller, Judith. Classic Style. New York: Simon & Schuster Editions. 1998

Vickers, Graham. 21st Century Hotel. London: Laurence King, 2005.

Kleiner, Fred. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: A Concise History of Western Art. Boston: Cengage Learning. 2012

McKellar, Susie. Interior Design and Identity. Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 2004.

Windermere Real Estate. Interior Design Styles. 2015


[1] Alan Gowans. Learning to see: historical perspective on modern popular/commercial arts. (Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1981), 23.

[2] Judith Miller. Classic Style. (New York: Simon & Schuster Editions, 1998), 7

[3] Ibid, 15

[4] Ibid, 16

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid, 23

[8] Ibid, 28

[9] Ibid

[10] Fred Kleiner. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: A Concise History of Western Art. (Boston: Cengage Learning. 2012), 598.

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid


[13] Graham Vickers. 21st Century Hotel. (London: Laurence King, 2005), 13.

[14] Ibid, 24

[15] Susie McKellar. Interior Design and Identity. (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 2004), 6.

[16] Windermere Real Estate. Interior Design Styles. 2015. n.p

[17]  Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20]  Ibid

[21] Ibid