Is It Classic Furniture or Something I’ll Grow To Hate?

freaking-out-over-your-paint-colors

 

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.

 

Hi Laurel

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?
a fan–

Margaret A.

 

********

 

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.

You can see Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello here.

 

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.

 

Take a classic banana cream pie.

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!

Please read 21 Interior Design Mistakes You Need to Stop Making.

 

Classic furniture - beautiful bedroom by Mark D Sikes

Mark D. Sikes

Traditional beds have beautiful, pleasing to the eye ornamentation that makes sense with lovely scale and proportions.

 

David Flint Wood via Architectural Digest – photo: William Waldron - classic furniture

David Flint Wood via Architectural Digest – photo: William Waldron

 

Or, please check out this recent post filled with beautiful, classical bedroom furnishings.

 

The bed & bath hot sales page has some lovelies, and all are on sale!

 

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.

What happens if you inherit all of your granny’s dated furniture?

 

Classic sofa - Gorgeous Serena and Lily Miramar Sofa - classic furniture

The number one style sofa 

This one is the often posted Miramar Sofa from Serena & Lily.

 

Jayson Morgan Sofa English Roll arm sofa - best sofa - classic furniture

 

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.

 

best sofas modern-furniture-lampert-sofa-jonathan-adler - classic furniture

 

The classic contemporary Lampert sofa by Jonathan Adler.

 

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
  • Online.

 

Some favorite online sources for classic furniture and vintage pieces are:

 

Chairish

Etsy

Ebay

1st Dibs

A Louis XIII early baroque settee from 1st Dibs.

 

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.

 

For all of you balletomanes out there. I am obsessed with this charming young Russian ballerina not yet out of the Vaganova Ballet Academy.

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.

 

Classic furniture antique - Louis XVI chair

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.

 

 

Classic Home Furnishings - Chinoiserie - Staffordshire dogs - Louis XVI chairs - classic furniture

Above, contemporary Louis XVI-style dining chairs.

 

Below, a contemporary interpretation of the neo-classical style in a settee.

 

Eileen Behnke - OKL Louis XVI setteeJames Louis XVI style settee

photo: Eileen Behnke

 

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.

 

Louis XV antique canape - classic furnitureAbove is an authentic Louis XV Canape from the 18th century

I believe that the Aubusson fabric is also original!

 

Please notice the fine detail with a gilt finish.

 

French Louis XV-Style Vintage Walnut Canape ~ Sofa

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.

 

The Elements Of Style

 

History of Interior Design

 

Here is a complete list of French Furniture Styles

 

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.

Chippendale Style Sofas - classic furniture

via 1st Dibs

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.

 

GP & J Baker Ferns Indigo linen fabric

GP & J Baker Ferns Indigo linen fabric

 

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!):

 

You might also enjoy this post about Granny Mistakes

80+ Timeless & Classic Home Furnishings You Will Love

Brown Furniture, how to make it look Classic and Fresh

xo,

 

PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!

 

7th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2020 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

  • Nancy Li - September 2, 2021 - 12:21 PM

    Just want you know how much I love your blog. You educate me and make me LOL at same time. You are one of my favorite blogger.

    A fanReplyCancel

  • Michelle Winter - September 1, 2021 - 11:44 PM

    The “classic styling” vs “classical era” is similar to the “contemporary” vs “modern” challenge.

    I have clients tell me they “like modern furniture” and I have to figure out if they like furniture from that era or contemporary design. Most of them don’t know there is a difference.ReplyCancel

  • Janice (a second Janice) - August 30, 2021 - 11:12 PM

    I also received this email two days in a row-just wondered why. A few days ago the same thing happened.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - August 30, 2021 - 11:51 PM

      Hi Janice, Sorry about that. (see my note to Sheree) Today, I made a mistake. That’s what happens when I’m at the hair salon and trying to work. lol But, don’t think I did that a few days ago. The email goes out again if people don’t open up the first email within the first 30 hours.ReplyCancel

  • Anna - August 30, 2021 - 5:57 PM

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge! I always have trouble figuring out the Louis’. Now I know it’s all down to the shoes!ReplyCancel

  • Sheree L - August 30, 2021 - 5:46 PM

    Janice, I had the same happen to me with 2 emails. Loved the post, Laurel. I like the history lesson and the great examples of “do and don’t.” Also, I adore all things Mozart, so thank you for the musical selections!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - August 30, 2021 - 11:48 PM

      Oops. I made a booboo and sent the email out to everyone. It was only supposed to go to folks who didn’t open up the first email. My apologies.ReplyCancel

  • Janice - August 30, 2021 - 2:01 PM

    Laurel, I enjoy your blog! It is a visual treat and I always learn something about design!

    But recently I have been getting two versions. I received this same article yesterday, and then it arrived again today. Has anyone else noticed this? Not that I really mind . . . but I thought that you’d want to know in case it’s not just me. Keep ’em coming! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Peggy - August 30, 2021 - 1:35 PM

    Your posts are treats and the two piano concertos were the cherries on top! Thank you for sharing them.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa Levine - August 29, 2021 - 6:49 PM

    You crack me up!
    I’m with you. I hate the fake furniture of today. It’s usually too gaudy and made awful. Give me the old stuff.

    Good lesson on all the Louis!ReplyCancel

  • Pattiann Smith - August 29, 2021 - 6:35 PM

    Love to see Mark Sikes pictures, and you are so freakin’ hilarious!!! hahhaha, (comments on the legs still have me laughing)ReplyCancel

  • SM - August 29, 2021 - 6:14 PM

    Got such a kick out of the Tabasco-laced BR set, cannot believe they are still selling these monsters! Such beautiful post about art, music, design, aesthetics! Art museums in major cities have furniture sections with beautiful historic pieces, you have to see a lot of these (the MFA in Boston has beautiful pieces on display), buy books, go to auctions and see as much as you can. It takes time to develop an awareness of what you really like, what forms, shapes, styles you are attracted to and what really is nice design and ‘good taste’. There are nice replicas and knock offs out there, and keep in mind, not every piece in the room must be a masterpiece, but it’s always nice to have once piece of furniture stand out and catch the eye, it is worth splurging on, but you have to make sure you’ll still like that piece 10 years from now. And never, never buy something because ‘it’s on sale’, always buy the piece you like most.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa D. - August 29, 2021 - 6:08 PM

    My favorite is Louis XVI too. I suppose it’s just my own personal preference, but the earlier Louie’s, though beautiful, are a little to ornate and over the top for me.

    The late interior decorator, Mario Buatta, said that he felt they did not teach students enough about the history of design which gives students context, so they can identify a piece of furniture and the era in which it came from.

    I’ve always loved Gustavian, which I guess is just the Swede’s variation on French furniture from the Louie era. I’m not sure why the Swedes painted their furniture. Maybe the wood was not considered to be of as high a quality as what the French had. Maybe since they lived in a part of the world with less sunlight, they felt that paint gave it a less heavy and more ethereal quality. Don’t know.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - August 30, 2021 - 11:47 AM

      Hi Lisa,

      At the New York School of Interior Design, that was one of the few courses that was required where I did learn all of the styles. But, yes, more reinforcement would’ve been good. But, also the practical day-to-day information is not taught. The emphasis is on architecture. Or else, it’s arts and crafts like a summer camp project. lolReplyCancel

  • Roberta - August 29, 2021 - 4:22 PM

    The fake rococo bed looks like it has a giant lizard climbing over the headboard. Otherwise fabulous post (as usual), you’re just a wealth of valuable information. Thanks.ReplyCancel

  • Mary Anne - August 29, 2021 - 2:32 PM

    I loved your Design and Music post this morning! I love Mozart and your post was perfectly melodic on all accounts today ! Also , Nicoletouk, will now remember your little FFS remembrance!ReplyCancel

  • nicoletouk - August 29, 2021 - 1:29 PM

    Thank you for a lovely article! I always enjoy history lessons.

    The way I keep the different Louie styles straight is this…

    The Fourteenth and Fifteenth start with F. F = Fancy and Flourish. Hence, the curvier and more ornate pieces…

    Sixteenth starts with S. S = straight. These are the clean and, well, straighter lined pieces.ReplyCancel

  • Ellen - August 29, 2021 - 10:21 AM

    Laurel, this post was such a Sunday morning treat!! Listening to Mozart instantly relaxes me. Your sense of humor and eye for design are unmatched, thank you for this.ReplyCancel

  • Gabrielle - August 29, 2021 - 1:55 AM

    Hi, Laurel!

    I love the links to Mozart…thank you! As a classically trained violinist, I teach my students the basics of posture, breathing, listening, tone…all before they even hold a violin! I think that’s why I enjoy your blog so much, you create in homes what I hear in music. Again, thank you!

    I love so many pieces, but Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto ( Violin, Cello & Piano), and Vivaldi’s Autumn from the Four Seasons are some of my favorites. And Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto is exquisite…my favorite piece of all time!

    Thanks, Laurel, for music for our eyes!!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - August 30, 2021 - 11:43 AM

      Thanks so much for the musical selections, Gabrielle. I too, love the Rach II!ReplyCancel

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