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Ancient Architecture Design & Furniture

Architecture and furniture in the ancient world shared a symbiotic, entwined relationship. In most ancient cultures it is architecture that held the upper hand so to speak, architecture most clearly was a formative influence on ancient furniture design.

In most situations the pattern was generally that developments occured in architecture, flowered and matured, and then were transposed to the realm of interior decoration in ancient homes, and thence moved into furniture design, both in construction and structural methods and also in ornamentation and decoration.

Early Egypt

From the very earliest times of ancient Egypt architectural principles were applied to interior decoration and furniture. Our knowledge of this largely rests on the evidence given in ancient Egyptian wall paintings and tiles.

Examples of architecture's influence in ancient egyptian furniture include:

  • burial chests depicted in Egyptian paintings show panelled sides and vaulted lids, these being likely simulations of external features of large houses.
  • additionally the sides of chests in ancient Egypt often had decorative facades that have some resemblance to the sides of houses, including imitation of windows.
  • generally, stripes (for walls), squares (for windows) and circles (for the ends of beams) were deployed as ornamentation on Egyptian coffins and chests.

The dowel joint, a round or square bolt, originating in ancient woodworking techniques, was probably first developed in the construction of ancient temples in Egypt and thence became used in egyptian chairs. The use of projecting dowels in furniture making certainly had its inspiration in the fact that dowels often project as their ground shrinks in buildings.

Greek Architecture Orders

Architecture in ancient Greece is generally divided into distinct phases or orders. The Greek orders are: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.



Doric order columns have a mild taper to the top or capital, the capital being fairly plain, and have no base. Doric order columns predominated in the Archaic period from 600 to 450 BC.



Ionic order columns have a volute, or scrolled, capital. The column has a base. The frieze is most often continuous, instead of split up by triglyphs as in the Doric order. Circa Greek classical period, 450 to 340 BC.



Corinthian order columns are more elaborate versions of Ionic order columns. They have upside down bell shaped capitals covered with leaves and curled decorations. Corinthian columns are from the Hellenistic period, starting about 340 BC and were most common in Roman architecture.

If we take a look at the "capital", or top, of the Ionic column above we see something immediately recognisable in furniture design, particularly in the area of couches and chaise sofas. Developments in Greek architecture were clearly paralled in furniture.

  • by the 5th century BC the legs of chairs, stools, and beds became slimmer and longer in probable imitation of greek columns.
  • in the 4th century the turning of greek stools´ legs increased in number and length.
  • capitals were sometimes used as seats.
  • from Homer we learn that beds may have been fixed in place and beds on greek vases are sometimes shown as put upon rectangle-shaped platforms similar to greek temples.

In the case of the base of the Ionic column things may have worked the other way. While Doric columns are flat at the base the turning of the Ionic may possibly have derived from furniture design. A longer shot is that the turning of the capital as well was copied from Greek furniture designers.

The Volute

Volutes in architecture are spiral scrolls which form the chief feature of the Ionic capital as seen above. The volute spiral capital may have originated first in furniture decoration as the first depiction on greek vases of volutes is as capitals of couch legs.

The volute scrolling was first seen in circa 400 BC on headboards and flatboards. By Roman times this method of decoration was heavily in use particularly on couches.

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