Furniture Design Trends Through the Ages
Each era is defined by its style. The swinging 60s had their tie-dye, the 70s their paisley. The 1920s indulged in art deco, but at the turn of the 21st century, it was all about minimalism.
Furniture reflects interior design styles just as much as interior décor and architecture. From upholstered bed frames to minimalist armchairs, you can often tell your furniture’s style inspiration from its features.
Click on your favourite decade to find out furniture design trends were a go in that era.
Art nouveau came about at the turn of the century, peaking around 1910, before World War I struck. The design trend borrowed its inspiration from nature. Furniture was distinguished by its curvy, elongated lines and ornamental designs.
With nature as its muse, you’ll find stylised natural forms such as flowers, feathers, webs and root buds featuring in any art nouveau furniture design.
Art nouveau furniture often has whiplash or high, vertical lines. Tables, chairs and cabinets in this style tend to be made of exotic woods with a polished or varnished finish.
While art nouveau furniture was influenced by the craftsmanship of earlier decorative styles, it was commonly produced in factories using standardised techniques – a hint of things to come.
Influential art nouveau designers
- Charles Rennie Mackintosh
- Emile Galle
- Louise Comfort Tiffany
- Antoni Gaudi
Bauhaus was a German art and design school renowned for its furniture design. Walter Gropius founded the school in 1919 to create a place where art could be taught in its totality.
Modernism, Constructivism and the English Arts and Crafts Movement all influenced the Bauhaus.
Also known as International Style, Bauhaus united form and function. You won’t find excessive decoration or ornamentation. Instead, furniture was made to serve the community simply and perfectly. Many Bauhaus items were designed for mass production.
The Bauhaus School advocated using materials such as tubular steel for tables, chairs, sofas and more. Steel could be easily made and bent. It also created the streamlined look of Bauhaus furniture. Wood, metal and glass were other popular materials.
The school was eventually closed in 1933 due to pressure from the Nazi regime.
Influential Bauhaus designers
- Walter Gropius
- Hannes Meyer
- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
- Marcel Breuer
- Paul Klee
- Wassily Kandinsky
- Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
The distinctive art deco style popped up in France after World War II in a burst of post-war optimism. Most prominent around the 1920s and 1930s, the interior design style was influenced by cubism and industrialisation.
Art deco is bold, brash and impossible to miss. Features include geometric shapes, symmetrical patterns, mirrored elements, sleek lines, and rounded edges.
Art deco was split between two schools of thought. The first favoured craftsmanship, enlisting skilled furniture makers to design unique pieces. The second popularised the movement by embracing new technologies for mass production.
Art deco designers often used industrial materials, such as stainless steel, chrome, plastic or Bakelite, in their furniture. They sculpted exotic lacquered woods (such as ebony) and kept colour to a minimum.
Combining multiple materials was commonplace in art deco furniture. You could often find stainless steel or chrome frames combined with leather upholstery, for example.
Today you’ll mostly spot the remnants of art deco’s influence in bed frames, headboards, and chairs. For example, the Finn collection of sofas is one such furniture series that is inspired largely by the art deco style.
Influential art deco designers
- Eileen Gray
- Henry van de Velde
- Raymond Templier
- Clarice Cliff
- Rene Lalique
Mid Century Modern
Australia took a while to cotton on to the modernist design trend, with local modernist designers reaching international success in the 1970s. When we did catch up, we became truly obsessed.
The mid century modern design movement began in the 1940s, a straightforward style that seemed appropriate in wartime.
Mid century modern – often just called modernist – furniture was about being minimal. Furniture served a purpose, and function became the primary focus of all designs.
For this reason, lines were kept clean. Few design elements were featured (and if they were, they were kept subtle). Furniture – especially designer chairs – came to resemble sculptures.
Borrowing from the Art Deco movement, geometric shapes remained important influences. However, in contrast, asymmetry grew popular.
Modernist furniture embraced modern materials – chrome, formica and vinyl. But modernist designers also adopted industrial machinery to churn out mass-produced items.
Mid-century modern furniture still holds sway in design circles, its retro look popular with the contemporary minimalist trends we embrace today.
Influential modernist designers
- Frank Lloyd Wright
- Ernest Race
- Douglas Snelling
- Isamu Noguchi
Late 20th century rebellion
Rebellion became the name of the game throughout the late 20th century, not just in society and politics, but in the design world.
The interior design world welcomed the progressive movement by throwing out the neat, minimalist days of yore. Instead, furniture designs experienced a surge in vibrant, dramatic styles.
The 1960s to 80s celebrated wildly colourful furniture and psychedelic prints. Colour clashes were big, with green/brown/yellow combinations popular choices.
Upholstery on designer sofas and couches often included polka dot or striped patterns. It was even common to see strange pairings, such as paisley and tie-dye. Woods were often stained or painted, or replaced altogether with painted metals.
The 1980s saw this style of excess hit its climax. Contrasting prints and patterns blended with monochromatic features and bold blocks of colour to create a party of colour in every room.
Influential late 20th century designers
- Giancarlo Piretti
- Grant and Mary Featherston
- Schulim Krimper
- George Korody
- Fred Lowen
- Gordon Andrews
- Memphis Group
After the excesses of the 1980s, the 90s pared it back drastically. Furniture was stripped down and laid bare. Colours were more subdued, adopting subtler neutrals and pastels. Woods became lighter.
The geometric forms stayed. But furniture lost excessive decoration and took on simple stripe or floral patterns. Furniture was made to be durable, rather than ornamental.
This minimalist trend was ideal for spacious, airy rooms. Its light hues seemed designed to introduce calm into each room. Interior design trends were light and white, reflecting a resurgence in Scandinavian designs.
Influential minimalist designers
- Tom Dixon
- Michael Marriott
- Marc Newson
- Sebastian Bergne
Flat-Packing and Replica Furniture
As we entered the 21st century, our priorities shifted to a more environmentally-conscious approach. Sustainable products became the norm, with people looking to recycled products or upcycling. Furniture has taken on more earthy tones, channelling the eco-conscious attitudes in their raw, fresh look.
Flat-packing, mass production and replica furniture are all trends that have come into full swing. People are also looking for innovative ways to make the most of smaller spaces.
We’re still seeing traces of those former interior design trends – the focus on smooth lines and curved edges, function above decoration, and material blends. The Scandinavian and Danish influences have also returned, as you can see in our Scandinavian and Danish bedroom furniture range.
- Jasper Morrison
- Assa Ashauch
- Mathias Bengtsson