The Edwardian period was known for elegance and cheer. The furniture during this period was a mix of styles and design, and though few pieces can truly be called Edwardian in style, the period still evokes a time of change and distinction. Edwardian furniture is light, airy and often whimsical. Identifying Edwardian furniture is more about fixing a time when a piece was made, rather than its characteristics. Edwardian furniture comes in many guises, borrowed from times past and ideas new to furniture design.
The Edwardian period is identified with the reign of King Edward VII of England, son of Queen Victoria. King Edward succeeded to the throne in 1901. He died in 1910. The Victorian period had been marked by dark, jewel-toned colors and heavy furnishings. Interiors were filled with velvets and jacquard fabrics, ornately carved furniture and layered window treatments. The Edwardian period is noted for its lighter aesthetic. Bright colors, lightweight fabrics and furniture designed with delicate lines and upholstered in fabrics with flowing graphics and floral design.
The art nouveau influence is evident in the design of Edwardian furniture. Edwardian furniture was also influenced by Neoclassical and Art Deco designs. The Edwardian period is also one of revivalism, what may be termed in contemporary times as eclectic. An Edwardian desk, for example, may have slender legs with squared feet, but its drawers will have inlaid veneers and intricate hardware. The overall shape of the desk will be linear, square. But the aesthetic of the desk will be light, delicate.
A popular material that was introduced during the Edwardian period is bamboo or wicker. The airiness was a relief from the heavy Victorian style. An Edwardian-style wicker chair will have a broad, arched back and curled arms. The seat will have a brightly colored cushion with a bold print. The broad back and curled arms is a common trait in Edwardian furniture, often seen in couches and wing-back chairs of the period.
A distinctive feature of the Edwardian period is that in spite of its revivalist tendencies, the avant-garde furniture movement was a powerful influence. One of the more notable designers of the avant-garde movement was Charles Rennie Mackintosh. His furniture was often painted, and the use of upholstery is limited. His designs were fluid: curving table legs, rolled arms, motifs in inlays depicting vines and flowing feminine shapes.
Though there were a number of prominent furniture designers at the onset of the twentieth century, not all would be considered celebrants of the Edwardian period. Further, Edwardian furnishings were often reproductions. It became a popular practice to reproduce furniture from previous eras, such as Art Deco and Art Nouveau furniture. These reproductions made up a large portion of the Edwardian period furnishings. In terms of antique furniture, a reproduction Art Deco piece produced in 1902 would be Edwardian.
The eclecticism of Edwardian furnishings, mixing classic lines with curvilinear details, gave rise to a new approach in interior design, one less rigid and more global than previously seen. Edwardian furniture is less about a specific design and more about a time of great change and new attitudes. Unlike his more reserved and less social mother, King Edward loved to travel and even took an interest in those groups that heretofore had been without influence, such as minority groups and women. The mixing of styles, the borrowing from past and creating new, the brightening and lightening of materials and design, all point to a celebration of the mixing of cultures and of classes.