Furniture refers to movable objects intended to support various human
activities such as seating (e.g., chairs, stools, and sofas), eating
(tables), and sleeping (e.g., beds).
Furniture is also used to hold
objects at a convenient height for work (as horizontal surfaces above
the ground, such as tables and desks), or to store things (e.g.,
cupboards and shelves).
Furniture can be a product of design and is
considered a form of decorative art. In addition to furniture's
functional role, it can serve a symbolic or religious purpose. It can
be made from many materials, including metal, plastic, and wood.
Furniture can be made using a variety of woodworking joints which
often reflect the local culture.
People have been using natural objects, such as tree stumps, rocks and
moss, as furniture since the beginning of human civilisation.
Archaeological research shows that from around 30,000 years ago,
people began constructing and carving their own furniture, using wood,
stone, and animal bones. Early furniture from this period is known
from artwork such as a
Venus figurine found in Russia, depicting the
goddess on a throne. The first surviving extant furniture is in the
Skara Brae in Scotland, and includes cupboards, dressers and
beds all constructed from stone. Complex construction techniques such
as joinery began in the early dynastic period of ancient Egypt. This
era saw constructed wooden pieces, including stools and tables,
sometimes decorated with valuable metals or ivory. The evolution of
furniture design continued in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, with
thrones being commonplace as well as the klinai, multipurpose couches
used for relaxing, eating, and sleeping. The furniture of the Middle
Ages was usually heavy, oak, and ornamented.
Furniture design expanded
during the Italian
Renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth
century. The seventeenth century, in both Southern and Northern
Europe, was characterized by opulent, often gilded
The nineteenth century is usually defined by revival styles. The first
three-quarters of the twentieth century are often seen as the march
towards Modernism. One unique outgrowth of post-modern furniture
design is a return to natural shapes and textures.
2.1 Prehistoric furniture
2.2 Ancient Egypt
2.3 Ancient Greece
2.4 Ancient Rome
2.5 Medieval Europe
2.6 18th century
2.7 19th century
2.8 Early North American
2.12 Asian history
3.1 For sitting
4 Types of wood used
5 Standards for design, functionality and safety
6 See also
9 External links
The English word furniture is derived from the French word
fourniture, the noun form of fournir, which means to supply or
provide. Thus fourniture in French means supplies or provisions.
The English usage, referring specifically to household objects, is
specific to that language; French and other Latin languages use
variants of the word meubles, which derives from Latin mobilia,
meaning "moveable goods".
Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük
Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük statue is evidence that furniture
existed in the neolithic.
The practice of using natural objects as rudimentary pieces of
furniture likely dates to the beginning of human civilisation.
Early humans are likely to have used tree stumps as seats, rocks as
rudimentary tables, and mossy areas for sleeping. During the late
palaeolithic or early neolithic period, from around 30,000 years ago,
people began constructing and carving their own furniture, using wood,
stone and animal bones. The earliest evidence for the existence of
constructed furniture is a
Venus figurine found at the
in Russia, which depicts the goddess in a sitting position, on a
throne. A similar statue of a Mother Goddess was found in Catal
Huyuk in Turkey, dating to between 6000 and 5500 BC. The inclusion
of such a seat in the figurines implies that these were already common
artefacts of that age.
Skara Brae house home furnishings, a dresser with shelves
A range of unique stone furniture has been excavated in Skara Brae, a
Neolithic village in Orkney, Scotland. The site dates from 3100–2500
BC and due to a shortage of wood in Orkney, the people of Skara Brae
were forced to build with stone, a readily available material that
could be worked easily and turned into items for use within the
household. Each house shows a high degree of sophistication and was
equipped with an extensive assortment of stone furniture, ranging from
cupboards, dressers and beds to shelves, stone seats, and limpet
tanks. The stone dresser was regarded as the most important as it
symbolically faces the entrance in each house and is therefore the
first item seen when entering, perhaps displaying symbolic objects,
including decorative artwork such as several
Neolithic Carved Stone
Balls also found at the site.
Ancient furniture has been excavated from the 8th-century BC Phrygian
tumulus, the Midas Mound, in Gordion, Turkey. Pieces found here
include tables and inlaid serving stands. There are also surviving
works from the 9th-8th-century BC Assyrian palace of Nimrud. The
earliest surviving carpet, the Pazyryk Carpet was discovered in a
frozen tomb in
Siberia and has been dated between the 6th and 3rd
Civilisation in ancient Egypt began with the clearance and irrigation
of land along the banks of the River Nile, which began in about
6000 BC. By that time, society in the
Nile Valley was already engaged
in organized agriculture and the construction of large buildings.
At this period, Egyptians in the southwestern corner of Egypt were
herding cattle and also constructing large buildings. Mortar was in
use by around 4000 BC. The inhabitants of the
Nile Valley and delta
were self-sufficient and were raising barley and emmer (an early
variety of wheat) and stored it in pits lined with reed mats. They
raised cattle, goats and pigs and they wove linens and baskets.
Evidence of furniture from the predynastic period is scarce, but
First Dynasty tombs indicate an already advanced use of
furnishings in the houses of the age.
During the dynastic period, which began in around 3200 BC, Egyptian
art developed significantly, and this included furniture design.
Egyptian furniture was primarily constructed using wood, but other
materials were sometimes used, such as leather, and pieces were
often adorned with gold, silver, ivory and ebony, for decoration.
Wood found in Egypt was not suitable for furniture construction, so
had to be imported into the country from other places,
particularly Phoenicia. The scarcity of wood necessitated
innovation in construction techniques. The use of scarf joints to join
two shorter pieces together and form a longer beam was one example of
this, as well as construction of veneers in which low quality
cheap wood was used as the main building material, with a thin layer
of expensive wood on the surface.
The earliest used seating furniture in the dynastic period was the
stool, which was used throughout Egyptian society, from the royal
family down to ordinary citizens. Various different designs were
used, including stools with four vertical legs, and others with
crossed splayed legs; almost all had rectangular seats, however.
Examples include the workman's stool, a simple three legged structure
with a concave seat, designed for comfort during labour, and the
much more ornate folding stool, with crossed folding legs, which
were decorated with carved duck heads and ivory, and had hinges
made of bronze. Full chairs were much rarer in early Egypt, being
limited to only wealthy and high ranking people, and seen as a status
symbol; they did not reach ordinary households until the eighteenth
dynasty. Early examples were formed by adding a straight back to a
stool, while later chairs had an inclined back. Other furniture
types in ancient Egypt include tables, which are heavily represented
in art, but almost nonexistent as preserved items - perhaps because
they were placed outside tombs rather than within, as well as beds
and storage chests.
Historical knowledge of Greek furniture is derived from various
sources, including literature, terracotta, sculptures, statuettes, and
painted vases. Some pieces survive to this day, primarily those
constructed from metals, including bronze, or marble. Wood was an
important material in Greek furniture, both domestic and imported.
A common technique was to construct the main sections of the furniture
with cheap solid wood, then apply a veneer using an expensive wood,
such as maple or ebony. Greek furniture construction also made use
of dowels and tenons for joining the wooden parts of a piece
together. Wood was shaped by carving, steam treatment, and the
lathe, and furniture is known to have been decorated with ivory,
tortoise shell, glass, gold or other precious materials.
Block IV from the east frieze of the Parthenon, with images of seated
gods, ca. 447–433 BCE.
The modern word “throne” is derived from the ancient Greek thronos
(Greek singular: θρόνος), which was a seat designated for
deities or individuals of high status or honor. The colossal
chryselephantine statue of
Zeus at Olympia, constructed by
lost in antiquity, featured the god
Zeus seated on an elaborate
throne, which was decorated with gold, precious stones, ebony and
ivory, according to Pausanias. Other Greek seats included the
klismos, an elegant Greek chair with a curved backrest and legs whose
form was copied by the Romans and is now part of the vocabulary of
furniture design, the backless stool (diphros), which existed in
most Greek homes, and folding stool. The kline, used from the
late seventh century BC, was a multipurpose piece used as a bed,
but also as a sofa and for reclining during meals. It was
rectangular and supported on four legs, two of which could be longer
than the other, providing support for an armrest or headboard.
Mattresses, rugs and blankets may have been used, but there is no
evidence for sheets.
In general, Greek tables were low and often appear in depictions
alongside klinai. The most common type of Greek table had a
rectangular top supported on three legs, although numerous
configurations exist, including trapezoid and circular. Tables in
ancient Greece were used mostly for dining purposes – in depictions
of banquets, it appears as though each participant would have utilized
a single table, rather than a collective use of a larger piece.
Tables also figured prominently in religious contexts, as indicated in
vase paintings, for example the wine vessel associated with Dionysus,
dating to around 450 BC and now housed at the Art Institute of
Chicago. Chests were used for storage of clothes and personal
items, and were usually rectangular with hinged lids. Chests
depicted in terracotta show elaborate patterns and design, including
the Greek fret.
Roman furniture was based heavily on Greek furniture, in style and
construction. In the last few centuries Rome gradually superseded
Greece as the foremost culture of Europe, leading eventually to Greece
becoming a province of Rome in 146 BC. Rome thus took over
production and distribution of Greek furniture, and the boundary
between the two is blurred. The Romans did have some limited
innovation outside of Greek influence, and styles distinctly their
Roman furniture was constructed principally using wood, metal and
stone, with marble and limestone used for outside furniture. Very
little wooden furniture survives intact, but there is evidence that a
variety of woods were used, including maple, citron, beech, oak, and
holly. Some imported wood such as satinwood was used for
decoration. The most commonly used metal was bronze, of which
numerous examples have survived, for example headrests for couches and
metal stools. Similar to the Greeks, Romans used tenons, dowels,
nails, and glue to join wooden pieces together, and also practised
The 1738 and 1748 excavations of
Roman furniture, preserved in the ashes of the AD 79 eruption of
Vesuvius, to the eighteenth century.
Florentine cassone from the 15th century
In contrast to the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome,
we have comparatively little evidence of furniture from the 5th to the
15th century. Very few extant pieces survive, and evidence in
literature is also scarce. It is likely that the style of
furniture prevalent in late antiquity persisted throughout the middle
ages. For example, a throne similar to that of
Zeus is depicted in
a sixth century diptych, while the
Bayeux tapestry shows Edward
the Confessor and Harold seated on seats similar to the Roman sella
The furniture of the
Middle Ages was usually heavy, oak, and
ornamented with carved designs. Along with the other arts, the Italian
Renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth century marked a rebirth
in design, often inspired by the
Greco-Roman tradition. A similar
explosion of design, and renaissance of culture in general, occurred
in Northern Europe, starting in the fifteenth century. The seventeenth
century, in both Southern and Northern Europe, was characterized by
opulent, often gilded
Baroque designs that frequently incorporated a
profusion of vegetal and scrolling ornament. Starting in the
eighteenth century, furniture designs began to develop more rapidly.
Although there were some styles that belonged primarily to one nation,
Great Britain or
Louis Quinze in French
furniture, others, such as the
perpetuated throughout Western Europe.
During the eighteenth century the fashion was set in England by the
French art. In the beginning of the century Boulle
An encoignure by royal cabinetmaker
Jean-Pierre Latz circa 1750 is
richly ornamented with marquetry and ormolu.
cabinets were at the peak of their popularity and Louis XIV was
reigning in France. In this era most of the furniture had metal and
enamelled decorations in it and some of the furniture was covered in
inlays of marbles lapis lazuli, and porphyry and other stones. By
Baroque style was displaced by the graceful curves,
shining ormolu, and intricate marquetry of the
Rococo style, which in
turn gave way around 1770 to the more severe lines of Neoclassicism,
modeled after the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. 
The furniture maker by Ludwig Deutsch
The nineteenth century is usually defined by concurrent revival
styles, including Gothic, Neoclassicism, Rococo, and the EastHaven
Movement. The design reforms of the late century introduced the
Aesthetic movement and the Arts and Crafts movement.
Art Nouveau was
influenced by both of these movements.
Early North American
This design was in many ways rooted in necessity and emphasizes both
form and materials. Early American[vague] chairs and tables are often
constructed with turned spindles and chair backs often constructed
with steaming to bend the wood. Wood choices tend to be deciduous
hardwoods with a particular emphasis on the wood of edible or fruit
bearing trees such as cherry or walnut.
Red and Blue
Chair (1917), designed by Gerrit Rietveld
The first three-quarters of the twentieth century are often seen as
the march towards Modernism. Art Deco, De Stijl, Bauhaus, Wiener
Vienna Secession designers all worked to some degree
within the Modernist idiom. Born from the
Bauhaus and Art
Deco/Streamline styles came the post WWII "Mid-Century Modern" style
using materials developed during the war including laminated plywood,
plastics and fiberglass. Prime examples include furniture designed by
George Nelson Associates, Charles and Ray Eames, Paul McCobb, Florence
Knoll, Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen, Harvey Probber, Vladamir Kagan
Danish modern designers including
Finn Juhl and Arne Jacobsen.
Postmodern design, intersecting the
Pop art movement, gained steam in
the 1960s and 70s, promoted in the 80s by groups such as the
Italy-based Memphis movement.
Transitional furniture is intended to
fill a place between Traditional and Modern tastes.
Stainless Steel Table with FSC Teca Wood -
Great efforts from individuals, governments, and companies has led to
the manufacturing of products with higher sustainability known as
Ecodesign. This new line of furniture is based on environmentally
friendly design. Its use and popularity are increasing each year.
One unique outgrowth of post-modern furniture design is Live edge,
heralding a return to natural shapes and textures within the home.
Sendai-dansu for kimono, zelkova wood, note the elaborate ironwork,
handles on side for transportation, and lockable compartment
Asian furniture has a quite distinct history. The traditions out of
India, China, Pakistan, Indonesia (Bali and Java) and
Japan are some
of the best known, but places such as Korea, Mongolia, and the
South East Asia
South East Asia have unique facets of their own.
The use of uncarved wood and bamboo and the use of heavy lacquers are
well known Chinese styles. It is worth noting that Chinese furniture
varies dramatically from one dynasty to the next.
Traditional Japanese furniture is well known for its minimalist style,
extensive use of wood, high-quality craftsmanship and reliance on wood
grain instead of painting or thick lacquer. Japanese chests are known
as Tansu, known for elaborate decorative iron work, and are some of
the most sought-after of Japanese antiques. The antiques available
generally date back to the
Tokugawa era and Meiji era.
Main article: List of furniture types
Seating is amongst the oldest known furniture types, and authors
Encyclopædia Britannica regard it as the most important.
In additional to the functional design, seating has had an important
decorative element from ancient times to the present day. This
includes carved and sculpted pieces intended as works of art, as well
as the styling of seats to indicate social importance, with senior
figures or leaders granted the use of specially designed seats.
The simplest form of seat is the chair, which is a piece of
furniture designed to allow a single person to sit down, which has a
back and legs, as well as a platform for sitting. Chairs often
feature cushions made from various fabrics.
Types of wood used
Main article: List of woods
All different types of woods have unique signature marks that can help
in easy identification of the type. Both hardwoods and softwoods are
used in furniture manufacturing, and each have their own specific
uses. Most commonly, quality furniture is made out of hardwood
which is made from oak, maple, mahogany, teak, walnut, cherry and
birch. Highest quality wood will have been air dried to rid it of its
Standards for design, functionality and safety
Installment by L. Gargantini for the Bolzano fair, 1957. Photo by
Paolo Monti (Fondo Paolo Monti, BEIC).
EN 527 Office furniture - Work tables and desks
EN 1335 Office furniture - Office work chair
ANSI/BIFMA X 5.1 Office Seating
DIN 4551 Office furniture; revolving office chair with adjustable back
with or without arm rests, adjustable in height
EN 581 Outdoor furniture - Seating and tables for camping, domestic
and contract use
Furniture - Seating - Test methods for the determination
of strength and durability– updated in 2014.
Furniture - Test methods for the determination of
stability, strength and durability.
BS 4875 Furniture. Strength and stability of furniture. Methods for
determination of stability of non-domestic storage furniture (British
Bunk beds and high beds – Test methods for the
determination of stability, strength and durability
EN 13150 Workbenches for laboratories - Safety requirements and test
EN 1729 Educational furniture, chairs and tables for educational
Furniture standard from Germany
Furniture standard from the Netherlands
GB 28007-2011 Children’s furniture - General technical requirements
for children’s furniture designed and manufactured for children
between 3 and 14 years old
BS 5852: 2006 Methods of test for assessment of the ignitability of
upholstered seating by smouldering and flaming ignition sources
Casters which make some furniture moveable
^ a b Gray, Channing. "Haute and cool: Fine Furnishings show branches
out in 10th year with a bigger spread of classic and cutting-edge
pieces". The Providence Journal.
^ a b c
Encyclopædia Britannica 2016.
^ "English Translation of "fournir" - Collins French-English
^ "English Translation of "fourniture" - Collins French-English
^ Weekley 2013, pp. 609-610.
^ Solodow 2010, p. 146.
^ a b c Smardzewski 2015, p. 4.
^ Smardzewski 2015, p. 1.
^ a b Smardzewski 2015, p. 2.
^ Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times (Charles Schribner's Sons
Publishing: New York, 1966) p. 51.
^ Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times.
(Princeton: University Press, 1992), p. 6.
^ a b Carl Roebuck, The World of Ancient Times, p. 52.
^ Metropolitan Museum of Art 1999, p. 117.
^ a b Blakemore 2006, p. 1.
^ a b Blakemore 2006, p. 14.
^ Gadalla 2007, p. 243.
^ Smardzewski 2015, pp. 13-14.
^ Smardzewski 2015, p. 14.
^ a b c Blakemore 2006, p. 15.
^ Litchfield 2011, p. 6.
^ a b Litchfield 2011, p. 6-7.
^ a b Blakemore 2006, p. 17.
^ Blakemore 2006, p. 21.
^ Blakemore 2006, p. 22.
^ Blakemore 2006, p. 24.
^ a b c d e Blakemore 2006, p. 39.
^ Richter, 125.
^ Richter, 13.
^ Richter, 14; NH 5.11.2ff.
^ Linda Maria Gigante, “Funerary Art,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia
Ancient Greece and Rome, Vol. 1, ed. Michael Gagarin and Elaine
Fantham (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 246.
^ E. Guhl, and W. Koner, Everyday Life in Greek and Roman Times (New
York: Crescent, 1989), 133.
^ Ole Wanscher, Sella Curulis: The Folding Stool, an Ancient Symbol of
Dignity (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1980), 83.
^ Simpson, 253.
^ a b c Blakemore 2006, p. 43.
^ Andrianou, 36.
^ Richter, 63.
^ a b Blakemore 2006, p. 42.
^ Richter, 66.
^ Chicago Painter, stamnos, ca. 450 B.C.E. The Art Institute of
^ a b c d e f g h Blakemore 2006, p. 61.
^ a b c d Lucie-Smith 1979, p. 33.
^ Lucie-Smith 1979, p. 35.
^ unknown. A history of feminine fashion. Nabu Pres. p. 71.
Ecodesign Report – The Results of a survey Amongst Australian
Industrial Design Consultancies". Big's
Furniture Store Las Vegas.
Nobody Beats Big's!. 30 January 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
^ "Physique of office chair". Foss Alborg. Retrieved 8 September
^ "Definition of CHAIR".
^ Jefferys, Chris (1 October 2006). "Soft Furnishings". New Holland
Publishers – via Google Books.
^ "Types of Wood". Hoove Designs. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
^ Abe Abbas. "Judge Quality in Wood Furniture". About.com. Retrieved 9
^ "DIN EN 1728 -
Furniture - Seating - Test methods for the
determination of strength and durability; German version EN 1728:2012
^ BS EN 1729
Chair and Table Guide
Blakemore, Robbie G. (2006). History of interior design &
furniture: from ancient Egypt to nineteenth-century Europe. J. Wiley
& Sons. ISBN 0471464333.
Encyclopædia Britannica (23 February 2016). "Furniture". Archived
from the original on 16 May 2016. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
Gadalla, Moustafa (2007). The Ancient Egyptian Culture Revealed.
Tehuti Research Foundation. ISBN 9781931446273.
Litchfield, Frederick (2011). Illustrated History of Furniture.
Arcturus Publishing. ISBN 9781848378032.
Lucie-Smith, Edward (1979). Furniture: A Concise History. Thames and
Hudson. ISBN 9780500181737.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (1999). Egyptian Art in the Age of the
Pyramids. New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Smardzewski, Jerzy (2015).
Furniture Design. Springer.
Solodow, Joseph B. (2010). Latin Alive: The Survival of Latin in
English and the Romance Languages. Cambridge University Press.
Weekley, Ernest (2013). An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English.
Courier Corporation. ISBN 9780486122878.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Furniture
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Furniture.
Images of furniture design available from the Visual Arts Data Service
(VADS) - including images from the Frederick Parker
Design Council Archives, and the Design Council Slide Collection.
Furniture Timeline From Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery,
University of Victoria
Illustrated History Of Furniture
Home Economics Archive: Tradition, Research, History (HEARTH)
An e-book collection of over 1,000 books on home economics spanning
1850 to 1950, created by Cornell University's Mann Library. Includes
several hundred works on furniture and interior design in this period,
itemized in a specific bibliography.
Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a fully
digitized 2 volume exhibition catalog
Rooms and spaces of a house
Shared residential rooms
Entryway / Genkan
Utility and storage
Furnace room / Boiler room
Laundry room / Utility room
Mechanical room / floor
Storm cellar / Safe room
Wiring closet / Demarcation point
Bedroom / Guest room
Jack and Jill bathroom
Great house areas
Single-family detached home