The Regency period is considered one of the most fashionable eras in English furniture manufacturing today. The period’s most respected furniture designers, craftsmen such as Thomas Hope, George Smith and Henry Holland, created designs that are still in production.
Regency furniture strove to reproduce designs that would have fit in well in the classic world, especially in the Roman Empire and in Ancient Greece. This neoclassical fetishism reflected the expansion of Britain into its own empire. The changes in British attitudes that accompanied this imperial growth produced a cultural longing for similar periods in history and the grandeur that came with them.
The royal name of the period is no accident. The king, George IV (r. 1820-1830), had a strong influence over the style although it outlasted him, remaining popular through the reign of William IV (r. 1830-1837). George himself favoured an influence from China called Chinoiserie. Stylistically the furniture included many straight, unbroken lines and surfaces with distinct influences from the earlier Georgian period mixed with neoclassical influences. Typically the most common wood used was mahogany, a wood which today is often hard to get hold of due to import restrictions in many countries. Other woods such as rosewood and zebrawood were also common, and brass metal was included in many of the pieces from the period. Although crafted in wood many pieces emulated classical furniture designs originally executed in stone.
From 1810 onwards regency furniture used a technique called French Polishing to achieve a smoother finish to the surfaces on the furniture than was previously possible. This technique gave the tables of the period a distinctive look which many associate with the entire period, although it wasn’t present first third of the era when this style was hegemonic.
Many pieces of regency furniture have unusual features that make them particularly attractive to contemporary buyers. These features include lion paw feet and saber legs, which add a touch of grandeur to the furniture which is rarely seen in modern designs or even other historic periods of furniture design.
Certain items of furniture came into the vogue during this period such as tilt top dining tables. These tables could be turned vertical and easily stored in a corner, freeing up dining space for other activities, such as dancing, a pastime often associated with the period and well-documented in Jane Austen television productions. The iconic piece of furniture from the ancient world, the sofa bed or lounge, also made a comeback in the Regency period. The elegant, swooping design and clawed feet we most associate with the chaise comes from its Regency incarnation. This piece would often be accompanied by double sabre leg chairs with rope twist backs.
The Regency Period witnessed a large expansion in furniture production and a rush of new designs as those who became rich from the Industrial Revolution tried to imitate the aristocracy by adopting their styles to show they had also achieved their place in the world. The grandeur of neo-classical styles and sabre legs validated the bourgeoisie’s newly won status and flaunted their riches.