This is an actual Dear Laurel email I received wanting to know how to tell if she’s getting classic furniture or something she’ll need to replace in ten years.
Ok, so you hate to shop and so do I. But worse than hating to shop, I hate buying things that I stop liking before they are ready for the pick-up truck.
Here’s the current issue about buying furniture: everything I like has that whitewash type of stain. And I’m suddenly in love with french style legs and curves — but just a while ago, I was gaga for Asian.
I hate being so fickle.
It makes me think my mother was right about me never being able to settle down. I am letting the trendsetters give me an identity complex.
Can you please address whether you should just plan to overhaul every ten years right down to the floor stain, OR is there a way to ride the wave of capricious trends and keep your style anchored in the classics?
I have no idea even what classic furniture is at this point! Can you walk us through keeping steady in the confusion and costly mistakes? How do you hold on to the artist in your design?
Well, Margaret is asking a very compelling question about what makes furniture – classic furniture.
What does that mean exactly?
How do we know what classic is?
Well, first, I think that we need to differentiate classic from classical in terms of furniture.
Classic furniture is furniture that’s stood the test of time.
Classical furniture has done the same; however, classical may also refer to the classical period of furniture. Or, instead, the neo-classical period, which was roughly from 1750 – 1810.
And, with that, it’s time for a new musical selection.
If you’re not interested, please go here.*
I know that some of you enjoy it when I do this. It’s more of a when the mood strikes me. However, I can’t say the word “classical” without thinking of the greatest composer of all time. (well, in my opinion)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
It’s not that there aren’t other great composers; there most definitely are. However, considering that Mozart died just shy of his 36th birthday, it’s mind-boggling how many exquisite works he composed.
What kills me is that most of the pieces he composed were meant to be, for its time, a classical muzak of sorts. In other words, background music while the Viennese aristocrats stood around gossiping with each other.
Today, I’m going to give you two pieces.
The first one is a piece I’ve listened to at least 100 times.
Concerto for Two Pianos No. 10 E-flat Major, K. 365 – 3rd Movement. Rondo. Allegro (I cued it, to begin with, the third movement, but you can always go back and listen to the rest.)
Ani & Nia Sulkhanishvili. Yes, they are identical twins. And, yes, if you have the recording from the movie Amadeus, there is a fine version there, as well.
This piece is also totally sick.
Mozart – Piano Concerto No.21, K.467 / Yeol Eum Son
*True classic goes back to the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
For more info on that, please check out this post which pretty much explains it all.
And, also this post goes into great depth about the golden mean.
The Greeks and Romans were all about math, proportion, and form. And they identified a precise formula that was most pleasing to the eye. No sense in reinventing the Golden Mean! But, you’ll need to read the posts above to learn more if you don’t already know.
There was a resurgence of these exquisite proportions in the neo-classical period of the late 18th century. Ya know… the time of Thomas Jefferson.
BTW, the neo-classical period in architecture and furnishings coincided with the classical music period. You know those too: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, amongst others. I hope you’re enjoying Mozart’s exquisite classical music.
So getting back to the classic furniture of today.
How do you know if the piece of furniture you are buying is following the tenants of the classical orders of proportion and balance? Do you get down on your hands and knees and measure every inch of the piece?
Well, you could, but I don’t think that’s necessary, and we’ll get to why in a sec.
Well, can’t we do things differently and still be classical?
Sure. Some things, like fabric and finishes, yes. Form and proportion, not as much.
Classic, to me, is like this.
On the bottom, we have a delectable, classic graham cracker crust.
And then a layer of sliced, ripe (but not too ripe) bananas.
Followed by creamy, rich vanilla custard pudding.
Then, another layer of bananas.
And topped off with mounds of fluffy, sweet (but not too sweet), (real) vanilla flavored (real) whipped cream.
You wash it down with a hot, sweet English tea.
and a Crestor. ;]
It’s a classic dessert, and man, I wish I had a slice of that pie right now!
But then, some
idiot misguided soul, who just opened up a bakery with the “latest trends in baking,” decides that he needs to use Tabasco sauce instead of vanilla. It’s AWESOME! After all, it’s the latest thing. Hey, don’t knock it until you try it, he says…
You take a bite and can’t wait to spit it out.
That’s how I feel about much of the furniture manufactured today.
And at this point, I need to mention that I have a standard for any company going in Laurel’s Rolodex. They will not appear in my guide if they go over 25% of their offerings with fake, ersatz, strange, bizarre, absurd furniture design. And most sources have little to none.
Although make no mistake, there is a tremendous variety of styles within what I deem to be classic furniture.
However, you will not see anything like what you are about to see–Tabasco-laced Styling masquerading as traditional classical furniture.
Now, let’s take a look at what our Tabasco-laced banana cream pie looks like in the form of furniture. And we will compare it to the real-deal classical furniture version.
Let’s begin with our fake neo-classical column thing that will guarantee you to have nightmares.
They can’t even do a proper acanthus leaf. And this bed is several thousand dollars. The weirdtastic bar thingy might be good for pull-ups, however. (if it’s strong enough)
Or, this tabasco-laden weirdness in the fake rococo style. I hope that metal thing doesn’t fall on your head. Oh, that footboard. Freak!
Traditional beds have beautiful, pleasing to the eye ornamentation that makes sense with lovely scale and proportions.
Or, please check out this recent post filled with beautiful, classical bedroom furnishings.
Below, I made a mini widget of some classic four-poster beds from Chairish.
(please click on any image to learn more)
However, Tabasco-laden furniture posing as sweet banana cream pie exists in all areas of home furnishings.
Tabasco upholstered furniture has curves on top of curves and exaggerated forms that have no relation to anything of a classical nature. Don’t you love how they repeat the weird design motif over and over ad nauseum?
And it’s BIG! Overblown. Exaggerated. Disproportionate. Fake.
Or, this bizarre contemporary thing about to take flight. There’s a lot of this around. And some of it is even worse.
I know that you guys get it. Even the ones who just landed here get it. When you see it without some salesperson breathing down your neck to place the order already, it is evident that the emperor is butt naked.
Here are three pieces of classic furniture – Sofas
And know that everything I recommend on any blog posts or furniture sales pages is classic furniture, be it a traditional classic or a modern classic.
I love this version of the English roll-arm sofa from Jayson Home. Please be forewarned that lead times for custom furniture are insanely long these days.
But what about antique sofas?
Sure, you can find antique sofas in lots of places.
- Antique shops
- Estate sales
- Flea markets (occasionally)
- Consignment shops
- Auction houses
Some favorite online sources for classic furniture and vintage pieces are:
Louis the XVI was reigning during the neo-classical period in furniture. Of course, There were Louis XIV and Louis XV, all 18th-century styles.
So, how do you keep all of the Louis(s) straight?
You don’t. haha.
But, I have some tips. ;]
Louis XIII was a boy when he became king. The furniture was late Renaissance going into the Baroque era and had Dutch and Flemish influence. I have no idea what is going on here.
Big dif between 13 and 14. I have a soft spot in my heart for 14 because the roots of the art of classical ballet* began with him. And no wonder. He had a great, sexy pair of legs and such tiny, delicate feet! Très belle quatrième position! (Gorgeous fourth position!)
This was the era of baroque furniture, and you know the saying, “If it ain’t baroque…”
In music, Bach, of course, was the man.
A fine example of a heavily decorated and gilded Baroque era fauteuil (armchair with open arms)
Louis XV is associated with the Rococo period in design. Still ornate, but not as much.
However, full of curves.
Another lovely pair of gams! And notice those shoes! They remind me of pointe shoes!
In an earlier iteration of this post, I included this lovely young ballerina.
Maria Khoreva. Remember this name. She’s the real deal! You can follow Maria on her beautiful Instagram. She calls herself Marachok.
And, indeed. Now, four years later, Maria is 21, a first soloist at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. I am sure it won’t be long before she’s promoted to principal ballerina.
Louis XV Bergeres (closed armchair) had less frou-frou but lots of curves.
But these curves are based on organic forms and are in scale with the piece.
Louis XVI – The classical King who unfortunately faced a barbaric end.
But, design-wise, 16 gets my vote as he’s associated with the neo-classical period, which is my favorite. Straight legs. Les ornamentation. Painted.
Above, contemporary Louis XVI-style dining chairs.
Below, a contemporary interpretation of the neo-classical style in a settee.
I hope you enjoyed all of the Louis(s) and seeing some authentic pieces of that time, which are pretty rare and very expensive.
Sometimes you will see something Louix XV canape. It is ONLY Louis XV if it was manufactured during that period of time. Even if it’s 10 years later, during Louis XVI, it would be in Louis XV style or “in the manner of.”
An item manufactured in 1910, although it may be considered antique, should never be labeled Louis XV. However, I see this all of the time.
Here’s what I’m talking about.
I believe that the Aubusson fabric is also original!
Please notice the fine detail with a gilt finish.
Above is a piece listed as Louis XV, but this settee is from the early 20th century. Therefore it is Louis XV style. But, loosely.
Above is a detailed shot. There is not the same level of detail as in the authentic Louis XV.
I think that the answer lies in Education.
Do you have to take a formal course?
Well, you could. Most interior design schools have a course on historical styles. But you can also teach yourself.
You could get a book.
Here are a couple of terrific books.
And, of course, you can read this blog. I write about this topic in different forms fairly often.
Are you still confused about classic furniture?
Well, are the lines pleasing to your eye? Does it fit Mozart’s music? Is it lovely, elegant, and inviting? Does it make you happy? Then, it’s probably a keeper.
Maybe you have an antique piece or a good reproduction.
I found this pair of classic, antique Chippendale-STYLE sofas. And, here is an example of antique furniture, but still NOT of the period or designer, in this case.
Unfortunately, these are sold; however, I love the idea of putting on a fresh fabric, not of the style at all. It gives an old piece a fresh, updated look, I think.
In addition, just about every designer I link to in this blog is classically based. Three posts highlight my top 20. (as of that writing). But it’s a great list. You can see them here, here, and here.
There is also this post highlighting some of my favorite classical architects.
The last thing to remember is that classical furniture does not necessarily mean “traditional furniture.”
Most of what is deemed to be “traditional” is anything but traditional. It’s made-up drek, IMO.
Bottom line. Look for good, pleasing proportions and lines.
If it looks weird to you, in any way. Believe yourself. It’s weird.
You might also enjoy these posts about classic furniture. (or furniture that is anything but classic!):