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A Guide to Furniture Styles & Types

Without familiarizing yourself with a furniture styles guide, how will you know what type of furniture you're looking for in your home? If you want to go for a classic look, do you choose antique, traditional, or mid-century style furniture? And what is the difference between contemporary and modern?

Everyone has a unique taste in the furniture by which they decorate their homes, but it can be hard to find "your look" if you don't know what it's called.

A Brief History of Types of Furniture Styles

Furniture has been a staple of wealth and luxury for centuries, from the Jacobean style of the 1600s through the Scandinavian contemporary style of the 1900s. Here's an overview of the many furniture styles we've seen prior to the 21st century, and the key characteristics of each one:

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  • Jacobean (1600-1690): Straight lines, ornate carvings, dark finish.
  • William and Mary (1690-1735): Dutch and Chinese influences, trumpet turned legs, Spanish ball feet, Oriental lacquer-work.
  • Queen Anne (1700-1755): Cabriole legs, pad or drake feet, fiddle-backed chair, bat-wing-shaped drawer pulls.
  • Pennsylvania Dutch: (1720-1830): American and Germanic influences, colorful folk painting on cases.
  • Chippendale (1750-1790): Classified into Gothic, French, and Chinese influences; more elaborately developed from the Queen Anne style; cabriole legs; ball and claw feet; broken pediment scroll top on tall cases. 
  • Hepplewhite (1765-1800): Neoclassical style, delicate appearance, tapered legs, contrasting veneers and inlay.
  • Federal (1780-1820): Combination of Hepplewhite and Sheraton styles, gracefully straight lines, tapered legs, use of inlay.
  • Sheraton (1780-1820): Neoclassical style, delicately straight lines, contrasting veneers, neoclassical motifs, and ornamentation.
  • American Empire (1800-1840): Classical ornamentation, course carvings, dark finish.
  • Victorian (1840-1910): Heavy proportions, dark finish, elaborate ornamentation.
  • Arts and Craft (1880-1910): Simple, utilitarian design.
  • Scandinavian Contemporary (1930-1950): Simple utilitarian design made with natural wood.

Your Guide to Furniture Design Styles of Today

While you can get many of the more historical styles in specialty stores, the styles you find today are very different. Since then, furniture fashion has deviated from the more ornate classical looks to more contemporary, bold styles that blur the lines between artistry and functionality.

Here are some of today's furniture design styles with which you may already be familiar:


If the above, old century styles appeal to you, you may be more interested in antique furniture. In order for a piece of furniture to be considered "antique," it must be at least 100 years old. Antique furniture is typically made from wood and has unique, ornate details that allow dealers to easily date them.


Combining the best of Queen Anne, Chippendale, and Sheraton styles, traditional furniture typically feature graceful ornamentation, straightened lines, and tapered legs. 


Vintage furniture are typically older pieces that exhibit the best quality of a particular detail associated with a certain era. These pieces are younger than antiques and are typically used. 


The rustic style brings warmth and coziness into any home. This style is typically made with timber or other natural materials, including hide, cotton, or linen. 

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Art Deco

Characterized by its geometric and angular shapes, art deco is a style that unites funky patterns with materials such as chrome, glass, and mirrors. 


Today, people may think retro and vintage are similar, thanks to the mass pop up of thrift shops and misnomers. However, retro furniture is typically defined by more modern designs that imitate past fashion trends. 


Modern is best known for its use of monochromatic color palettes and using materials such as steel, vinyl, leather, and plastic. This furniture style resulted from the early 1900s modernist movement.


The confusing aspect of contemporary style is that it refers to furniture that is popular today. Many companies pair "modern" and "contemporary" together, but the problem with that is that modern only refers to modern style, while contemporary is used to reference the furniture designs of today.

What's Your Favorite Furniture Style?

No matter which furniture style mentioned in this guide you prefer, it can be helpful to know what name means which style. Find your favorite style today online or at a Bassett location nearest you!



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