What Is Rococo Furniture?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Rococo furniture refers to interior design pieces from inspired by the extravagantly decorated Rococo period in 18th century France. Noted for its extensive decoration, Rococo furniture is sumptuous and extreme in design, and often employs many different types of material and ornamentation in a single piece. While Rococo furniture may not suit more modest taste, it can provide an aura of luxury and will definitely create an design centerpiece that is impossible to miss.

Rococo furniture was popularized by Madame de Pompadour.
Rococo furniture was popularized by Madame de Pompadour.

The Rococo period in France and central Europe came on the heels of the slightly more restrained Baroque period, beginning in the mid 1700s. Popularized by Louis XV's influential mistress, Madame de Pompadour, Rococo design emphasized detail, well-defined sculpted lines, and ornamentation. This era is sometimes considered the height of French decorative art, thanks to the extreme focus on perfected details in every piece. Not surprisingly, the Rococo period was followed by a Neoclassical backlash, in which curving, gilded swirls were overtaken by a return to plain, monochromatic, and geometric styles reminiscent of Ancient Rome.

The tapestries and paintings of Jean Fran├žois de Troy are examples of Rococo period art and design.
The tapestries and paintings of Jean Fran├žois de Troy are examples of Rococo period art and design.

Many decorative arts, such as painting, gilding, and bronzing, were used to add additional levels of detail and magnificence to Rococo furniture. During the period, a decorative chair might pass through several different workshops on its path to completion, including a carpenter, carver, upholsterer, and gilder. Not surprisingly, the detailed style was primarily used by wealthy merchants and the nobility, as few middle-class or working-class households could afford such dramatic decoration.

Rococo furniture tends to feature a fully sculpted look, in which no element has been left without attention and detail. Tabletops, for instance, are often shaped and carved, rather than being left as rough rectangles or circles. Some traditional Rococo furniture also features intentionally eschew symmetry, finding charm in the contrast between asymmetric lines. Surfaces are carved in S-shapes, curls, or shell-like designs, mimicking the undulating lines found in nature, rather than straight lines.

Popular types of Rococo furniture include chairs, sofas, tables, and bed stands. Mirrors with highly ornamented frames are especially popular in Rococo design, as the period marked the beginning of access to inexpensive, well-made glass in Europe. Small tables and footstools are also associated with Rococo furniture, as the era popularized the idea of light, easily movable furniture.

Upholstery fabrics are also important to Rococo; silk and velvet fabrics are typical choices. Fabric patterns frequently displayed floral or pastoral designs, sometimes made to match the carved decorations on the furniture. Chinese design also influenced Rococo upholstery, many reproduction fabrics depict highly romanticized views of Chinese pagodas, dragons, and villages.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments

Grivusangel

I saw Rococo furniture for the first time in a book about European royalty. At the time, I was pretty impressed with it and thought it quite wonderful.

Now, with a few years behind me, I can see how over the top it was, but it certainly makes a statement, as the article says. I remember seeing a photo of a small mirror in the Palace of Versailles, and it was incredible. I still might like to have that mirror, although it would clash frightfully with everything else I have, which might be charitably called "Eclectic" or more accurately, "Early Attic."

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