Mid-century-modern and contemporary looks remain as popular today as they have been for the past several years. But style preferences are nothing if not fluid, meaning what’s in one year may not be the next.
So, in choosing the furniture you’re planning to live with, you should pay less attention to interior design fads than what speaks to you. That way, you and your interior designer can work together to select pieces that accord with your personal predilections and add character to your home.
An Introduction to Furniture Styles
Furniture is more than a set of functional pieces that enable us to relax and function in our everyday lives. It is a medium through which artisans and designers can express their creativity, reflecting artistic movements, historical periods and cultural traditions.
Each furniture style embodies a unique story, which informs the choices made by collectors, as well as those made by interior designers and other individuals looking to create intentional spaces. Some select a single style to set the tone for their entire home. Others mix different styles, turning each room into an expression of personality and personal taste.
In this guide, we take you on a deep dive into the world of furniture styles. So, whether you’re a lover of timeless classics, a collector of modern furniture or a fan of mixing and matching to create a singular look, when it’s time to design your living space, you’ll have the knowledge you need to give it the attitude you want.
Furniture and Decor Trends
Recent furniture and decor trends include the mixing of different eras and a preference for warm color palettes. In addition, the increasing emphasis on sustainability has driven the use of natural materials, from rich-hued woods to ruggedly beautiful stone.
Soft curves have almost completely taken over from sharp edges, as modular furniture with rounded shapes creates inviting spaces throughout the home.
These trends can be adapted to accommodate the style of furniture you like best. Are you looking to add a statement piece, refresh a room or make a new house your own? Find pointers from the experts in our annual designer survey.
Find Your Furniture Style
What works best in your home will, of course, depend on your taste and space. The descriptions of the furniture periods and styles below are intended to provide you with inspiration and jumping-off points for your interior design project.
Explore each one, learning its characteristics and discovering some of its most popular designs.
Early Modernist Furniture
Characterized by clean lines, simple shapes, sleek finishes and functionality, as well as the use of materials like metal and wood, early modernist furniture represented a rejection of the more embellished styles popular in the Victorian era.
Designed in the late 1920s by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, the Barcelona chair embodies the essence of modernist design with a sleek stainless-steel frame and cushioned leather upholstery.
Modern furniture characteristics:
- Factory-made and natural materials
- Industrial production techniques
- Minimal adornments and clean lines
- Focus on functionality
Easily identifiable by its rough textures, earthy colors and natural materials, rustic furniture helps bring the beauty of the outdoors inside. Evoking history and warmth, the rustic style originated in the late 1800s in England, where it was heavily influenced by Romanticism.
By the 20th century, it had spread to the United States, adopted by both wealthy New Yorkers and the National Park Service. One of the most popular and familiar manifestations of the style is the 1903 Thomas Lee Adirondack chair.
Rustic furniture characteristics:
- Natural materials
- Purposely unfinished planes
- Neutral colors and earthy tones
- Forms inspired by nature
Art Deco Furniture
Taking its name from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, the Art Deco movement celebrated social and technological progress. This philosophy found expression in a range of categories, from jewelry to architecture.
Art Deco furniture is characterized by geometric patterns and luxurious materials, which combine in gorgeous pieces like Eileen Gray‘s E 1027 table. Made for the wealthy and meant to highlight the owners’ high social status, they reflect the Jazz Age’s sophistication and glamor.
Art Deco furniture characteristics:
- Luxurious materials
- Geometric shapes
- Intricate detailing
- Contrasting colors and patterns
Whether realized in furniture, art or jewelry, contemporary style represents design’s current cutting edge. As such, it is fluid and ever-evolving, although it often borrows from past eras. Typified by crisp lines and light textures, contemporary furniture fuses comfort with a minimalist approach that lets the design speak for itself.
Contemporary furniture characteristics:
- Trending colors
- Glossy surfaces
- Geometric shapes
- Sustainable materials
Easily recognizable, Victorian furniture is regal, ornate and luxurious. Growing out of the earlier Gothic and Louis XV styles, it came into its own in the mid-1800s, during the reign of Queen Victoria in England.
Made in a period that encompassed the Industrial Revolution, Victorian furniture was the first to be mass-produced. This reduced the individuality of the pieces but helped drop their prices, making them available to the middle class and widening their distribution.
Victorian furniture characteristics:
- Curved lines and stately proportions
- Floral or geometric patterns
- Rich, often exotic woods
- Highly detailed embellishments
Born during the Industrial Revolution, the industrial style has experienced a resurgence in popularity with the rise of interest in minimalist design. The furniture is characterized by raw and sometimes weathered materials — often repurposed from tools or other furniture — and durability.
Exposed fasteners and clean, steel-framed lines give a historical resonance to pieces that bring a touch of urban grit and uncompromising practicality to living spaces.
One of the style’s best-known examples is the Tolix chair by Xavier Pauchard, found not only in factories and workshops but also in contemporary residences and restaurants worldwide.
Industrial furniture characteristics:
- Rugged materials like iron, steel and wood
- Exposed hardware, minimal detailing
- 20th-century factory and warehouse allusions
- Neutral colors
Not associated with any one look, the eclectic Bohemian style originated with the Bloomsbury group of artists, writers and designers in early-20th-century London.
Creating a Bohemian space is simple: Just look for furniture from different eras and countries displaying bright colors and a maximalist mix of textiles and patterns.
Bohemian furniture characteristics:
- Bold colors
- Whimsical lines
- Low-lying furniture
- Maximalist textiles and patterns
Mid-Century Modern Furniture
Mid-century modern design refers to the variety of modernism that rose to prominence in the 1940s and ’50s. It displays many of the characteristics of the earlier versions of modernism, including simple designs and a focus on functionality.
Some of the most noteworthy mid-century modern furniture was designed by Charles and Ray Eames, arguably the style’s most significant design duo, whose work continues to be celebrated and emulated to this day. With its sharp or curved lines and muted color schemes, mid-century modern furniture is much prized in the interior design world and has saturated the online resale and vintage markets in recent decades.
Mid-century modern furniture characteristics:
- Organic, often rounded shapes
- Unadorned silhouettes and clean lines
- Mixed materials, with an emphasis on wood, wool, steel and plastic
- Focus on functionality
Transitional furniture combines traditional and modern influences in an aesthetic that is comfortable and streamlined. Pieces are often monochromatic and have minimal embellishments, creating a foundation for a space that leaves room for all sorts of interior design flair.
The use of classic materials like wood and metal, together with a mix of textures, lines and patterns, provides interest, while modern silhouettes are balanced by traditional elements.
Transitional furniture characteristics:
- Minimal and monochromatic
- Emphasis on negative space
- Neutral colors with metallic accents
- Layered textures and patterns
Emerging in the late 1950s and peaking in the 1980s, postmodernism is perhaps the most expressive design style on our list. Conceived as a riposte to the austerity of modernism, postmodern furniture stands out by virtue of its colors, unconventional proportions and loud patterns, typically realized in plastic and other lightweight materials.
Postmodern furniture characteristics:
- Lightweight materials
- Bold colors and patterns
- Unexpected shapes and proportions
- Form overriding function
Scandinavian Modern Furniture
Scandinavian modern furniture embodies the modernist precept of combining aesthetically pleasing form with functionality. The style originated in the 1930s in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-20th century just as modernist design was capturing the U.S. aesthetic imagination.
With its meticulous craftsmanship, elegant, open designs and light, natural materials, Scandinavian modern furniture brings a sense of airiness and warmth to any room it occupies.
Scandinavian modern furniture characteristics:
- Elegantly simple design
- Natural materials, with an emphasis on wood and leather
- Expert craftsmanship
- Light, natural palette
To infuse your home with minimalist sophistication, look for furniture with unfussy surfaces, sparse ornamentation and a monochromatic palette.
Minimalist furniture characteristics:
- Monochromatic color schemes
- Clean lines and geometric shapes
Additional Furniture Styles
There are many furniture styles beyond those described above that a budding interior design enthusiast should know. Here is a guide to a few of the most important ones.
- Arts and Crafts: The Arts and Crafts movement began as a reaction to mass production, highlighting craftsmanship, raw materials and simple design.
- Chippendale: Displaying a more reserved version of the French rococo style, Chippendale furniture is characterized by curved lines, claw feet and batwing hardware.
- Jacobean: Jacobean furniture, made from the early to mid 17th century, is noted for its heavy forms, deep carving and a greater focus on comfort than in previous eras.
- Organic modern: Created in the 1930s, organic modern furniture blends natural materials and forms with modernism in an unrefined yet still stylish look.
- Tribal: Inspired by indigenous, nonindustrialized and nomadic cultures around the world, tribal furniture is characterized by detailed patterns, warm colors and rich textures.
Furniture helps set the tone for your home, and finding pieces that reflect your individual style is crucial to creating a distinctive look. By taking the time to find the perfect piece, whether made locally or far away, you can bring the beauty of the whole world straight to your doorstep.