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English Restoration Period & Carolean Furniture

Restoration period, or Charles II furniture (Carolean), brought the English furniture tradition back into line with European design movements and reestablished the connection between furniture and architecture in an emphatic, often extreme manner, after the years of Puritan austerity in the 1600's and represents the beginning of the English baroque furniture tradition.

The Restoration Period

Charles the Second ascended to the throne in 1660 bringing to an end England's republican experiment, or Commonwealth, under Oliver Cromwell. The restoration of the monarchy was generally welcomed by lords of the manor and ordinary peasants alike weary of conflict and the years afterwards of Puritan discipline.

Carolean Furniture Origins

Prior to becoming king Charles 2 and his court had spent years in exile in the fashionable centres of France and Holland and had learnt to admire the styles of furniture, and living, that they encountered there and as a result, on their return, they transplanted French and Dutch baroque tastes to London. ( See description and pictures of a Restoration era period room and more on the influence of the royal court).

Late Seventeenth Century Table " Candlestands
Table & Candlestands, c.1670. Typically for the period with spiral turned legs.

Upon doing so they found many imitators and the fine and elaborate furniture of the European continent, particularly that belonging to the Louis XIV Baroque style, spread into the homes of wealthy Londoners. Typically, however, in provincial areas of England country furniture craftsmen continued with making furniture in the semi-Gothic Jacobean and the plain and simple Cromwellian styles.

In accentuation of Charles' own tastes, this was a time of a considerable influx of Dutch and French immigrants, some among them becoming the manufacturers of Restoration era furniture and bringing with them, especially the Dutch, the techniques of veneering, gilding, marquetry, and laquer furniture work which were so important to the development of Carolean furniture.

Restoration Period Decoration

Restoration furniture was decorative and colourful and epitomising this was the use of marquetry. Floral Marquetry Table
Floral Marquetry Table
Marquetry, the applying of any number of pre-prepared and mixed veneers onto a body of wood, was used in especially floral patterns during the Restoration period up to about 1690. Furniture craftsmen of the Charles II era specialised in designs of flowers with birds, or cupids and acanthus leaf motifs nearly always in exquisite, finely detailed forms. Examples of this are especially evident in the small tables of the period.

Wood carving was also employed more than in the preceding periods, Grinling Gibbons being the master of the time, specialising in carvings of fruit and flowers in architectural, decorative styles on Venetian style glass mirrors especially.

New Models

The new forms of decorating furniture combined with improved construction techniques had a role in the introduction of numbers of new furniture items such as daybeds, designed to go as a set with Carolean era baroque chairs, (see picture of Restoration interior), freestanding bookcases, chests of drawers, more structurally advanced gate leg dining tables, English clocks, and dressing tables - these models mostly being in the Baroque style prevalent among the advanced European nations.

Laquer Table
Laquer Table, 1680. Veneered with pieces of Japanese laquer.

Wood

While oak was still used in English country furniture making, especially in oak chairs of the time, the restoration period saw walnut wood usurping the place of oak in the towns particularly in the case of very fine, decorative cabinetry and veneered furniture. Walnut, imported from Virginia and France, was used both as a solid and a veneer and came in two types. The first being pale brown with black veins, the second, a stronger type and less susceptible to infestation, being grey-brown with dark markings and veining.

In addition to walnut and oak there was also used olive, white cedar, kingwood, and coromandel among others.

Antiques & Reproductions

Charles II furniture was made in great variety and quantity and remains popular in antique auction houses today. Our Restoration period resources section may be of some use in pursuing an active interest in Restoration furniture further.









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