Furniture is movable objects intended to support various human activities such as seating (e.g., chairs, stools, tables and sofas) and sleeping (e.g., beds). Furniture is also used to hold objects at a convenient height for work (as horizontal surfaces above the ground, such as tables and desks), or to store things (e.g., cupboards and shelves). Furniture can be a product of design and is considered a form of decorative art. In addition to furniture’s functional role, it can serve a symbolic or religious purpose. It can be made from many materials, including metal, plastic, and wood. Furniture can be made using a variety of woodworking joints which often reflect the local culture.
Archeological research shows that Neolithic people used stone to build cupboards, dressers, beds, shelves and seats. Ancient furniture from the 8th-century BC includes tables and serving stands. The furniture of the Middle Ages was usually heavy, oak, and ornamented. Furniture design expanded during the Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. The seventeenth century, in both Southern and Northern Europe, was characterized by opulent, often gilded Baroque designs. The nineteenth century is usually defined by revival styles. The first three-quarters of the twentieth century are often seen as the march towards Modernism. One unique outgrowth of post-modern furniture design is a return to natural shapes and textures.
Early modern Europe
Florentine cassone from the 15th century
The furniture of the Middle Ages was usually heavy, oak, and ornamented with carved designs. Along with the other arts, the Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth century marked a rebirth in design, often inspired by the Greco-Roman tradition. A similar explosion of design, and renaissance of culture in general, occurred in Northern Europe, starting in the fifteenth century. The seventeenth century, in both Southern and Northern Europe, was characterized by opulent, often gilded Baroque designs that frequently incorporated a profusion of vegetal and scrolling ornament. Starting in the eighteenth century, furniture designs began to develop more rapidly. Although there were some styles that belonged primarily to one nation, such as Palladianism in Great Britain or Louis Quinze in French furniture, others, such as the Rococo and Neoclassicism were perpetuated throughout Western Europe.
During the eighteenth century the fashion was set in England by the French art. In the beginning of the century the Boulle cabinets were at the peak of their popularity and Louis XIV was reigning in France. In this era most of the furniture had metal and enamelled decorations in it and some of the furniture was covered in inlays of marbles lapis lazuli, and porphyry and other stones.