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What is Elizabethan Furniture?

Antique Elizabethan Table

Elizabethan style furniture presents as elegantly and sophisticated as the name suggests. The Elizabethan era, also referred to as England's golden age marks the period during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). This English renaissance inspired progressive productions from literature to furniture. Despite its antiquated origins, this furniture style can still be seen in households worldwide.

Starting in the late 1400s and lasting over a century, the English Renaissance fused Gothic and Renaissance architecture to create new structures and designs. The last five decades of the English Renaissance took place under Queen Elizabeth I's rule. They brought further developed furniture designs that built on some of the best qualities and characteristics of previously produced furniture. Preceding the English golden age, the Tudor period brought intricate woodwork to the furniture world. Due to changes in house plans and design incorporating greater European and Italianate styles, furniture became more accessible and varied because it was produced in much larger quantities and varieties, giving consumers more decoration options.

The original development of Elizabethan furniture was inspired by Gothic and Renaissance styles incorporating features that originated in Holland, Germany, and the Flemish lands. By the end of the era, the wealthy and fashionable members of society established a garish style that was highly decorative and architectural. This style attracted wealthy patrons due to the meticulous labor and precise detailing that went into the craftsmanship. Each piece was top quality and truly one of a kind. Intricate designs and ornate details derived from Greek influences can be found on nearly every authentic piece.

Replacing the plain linenfold paneling of early Tudor times, the Elizabethan style celebrated expression and detail, turning furniture into a piece of functional art. Some of the style's most defining characteristics include detailed ornamentation and motifs. The free and skillful expression of furniture craftsmen could be seen in the abundant decoration. Craftsmen enthusiastically took any opportunity to leave their mark on all of their products, which meant every piece of furniture the era produced was decorated with some type of design and carving. Grapes and vines, along with other fruit and floral designs, were used frequently along with masks, grotesques, and lozenges.

While furniture-makers primarily used mahogany in later centuries, craftsmen during the Elizabethan era worked with oak. All the pieces were crafted from hardwood that could withstand the everyday wear and tear in a business or family home. Finer pieces were sometimes constructed with walnut for their lighter appearance. The thinner composition of walnut, when compared to oak, resulted in less durability and meant that the walnut pieces were intended solely for decorative purposes. Regardless of the type of wood, each piece was richly decorated in a bold and lively way. At the end of the Tudor period and the start of the new era, this ornamentation could be regarded as overbearing and unorganized because of the zealous attempts of craftsmen to make unique and artful contributions to the furniture. Over time, the detailed carvings became tastefully refined in a way that restored the style's intended grace. While wood decorations were still heavily prevalent, they were quickly adapted to adhere to more sophisticated tastes.

Coinciding with the popularization of Elizabethan furniture were the changes in style in interior design and houses. Spaces once used as a hall in Medieval and Tudor homes were now transformed into long galleries where guests could play games and stroll. In decorating this space, homeowners looked for the best and most finely crafted furniture. The boom in home decor production made quality interior accessories more widely available, meaning that the style could be enjoyed not only among the wealthy in country manor houses or the royals in palaces. The nascent middle class could now purchase the most vogue styles and decorate their homes in more variable ways. Though furniture was a home staple for decoration and usability, the increased production primarily surrounded other home accessories. A heavy emphasis was placed on decorating with silk hangings, tapestries, pewter, brass, and fine linen. Painting and gilding walls and ceilings was another common way for people to decorate their homes and incorporate art into interior design. The furniture offered beauty and durability that complimented widely available home accessories. Its quality, elegance, and increased availability compared to years before made this style highly sought after among nearly all English people.

The furniture style's royal name extended to its presence in the palace. Though records of palace furniture are limited, the Elizabethan era brought color, gold or silk tapestries, and talented joinery work. Plain furniture was transformed with intricately painted images that enhanced beauty and gave ordinary tables and chairs a touch of character. Beyond the Windsor palace, Theobald's palace and Hampton Court Palace contained furniture styles from this era. In the late 1500s, "skillfully wrought in joiner's work" and "tables of inlaid work and marble of various colours" could be seen in many royal dwellings. The evolution of palace furniture is ascribed to the ornamentation trend that dominated the furniture industry at the time. Everyone, including the royals, wanted a part in the tasteful adoption of this new and sophisticated style.

Due to their age, original pieces from this period are rare and nearly impossible to find on the market. The lack of strength in walnut furniture has not allowed these pieces to survive long enough to reach antiquity. Any oak originals existing today are found in museums and the homes of tremendously wealthy collectors. Luckily, antique reproduction furniture can preserve the authentic beauty of Elizabethan-era pieces so you can enjoy all of the same characteristics of original furniture. Made from natural hardwood, reproduction pieces from reputable furniture makers like Laurel Crown can transport you back hundreds of years and recreate some of the style's most popular features. Our reproductions' high-quality woods and skilled craftsmanship produce furniture built to last for many years. Discover why this furniture was so beloved during its prime and add a touch of charming English history to your home.

1 http://www.furniturestyles.net/european/english/elizabethan.html
2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabethan_era
3 https://www.interiordezine.com/styles-and-periods/elizabethan-furniture/

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