Teachers' Orientation Pages to:
Nineteenth Century Furniture: A Matter of Style
Collection and Exhibit
The objects featured in this online exhibit are (except for one) on
physical exhibit in Springfield in the At Home in the Heartland
exhibit. This Web module emphasizes the artistic and stylistic
aspects of the furniture, while At Home emphasizes the historical
and social aspects.
Four of the five exhibited pieces (chair, étagère, secretary and
mantel) are pictured in situ at
. The parlor is the most
formal room of any house. The private rooms (and rooms of those
below middle class) would look similar to those in the second
picture on this Web page. The piano is on exhibit in another sec-
tion of At Home:
The museum collection contains many pieces of furniture, from locally hand-made objects to fac-
tory-made expensive pieces from the eastern states. The Victorian age is characterized by very
ornate furniture; however, some of the pieces were made by local craftsmen who used commercial
or self-designed patterns. Solid walnut and oak were still available on Illinois farms in the late
1800s, so were not considered wood for the rich only. The craftsmen would use veneers instead of
solid pieces (as seen in At Home online) of more expensive or more rare woods.
Furniture is another category of objects that has a special vocabulary of its own. There is a popup
glossary which often has a thumbnail photo of the object defined. The glossary list prints out for
convenient use.
There is also a labeled line drawing or diagram of each piece for students to use with activities or
for learning terms. Once the students are familiar with the language of furniture and remember the
look of the motifs, they will be able to spot the use of these motifs in modern furniture (and architec-
ture) and appreciate the origin of common designs.
A recent mail-order catalog of a furniture store famous for traditional styles had 119 examples of
these classical and traditional motifs on the new pieces for sale today. Why have these designs lasted
for over 2000 years, in some cases? Why is gothic style popular again? What impression does furni-
ture give the viewer when it lacks any particular `style'? How does the design of objects that sur-
round us make us feel? There are many discussions in these six objects.