The Louis XVI period marked a return to symmetry, straight lines and classical ornamentation. While the motifs of the natural world survived (garlands, urns, laurels, dolphins and eagles), they were paired with geometric designs. For the first time, during the Louis XVI period, chairs were made for solely for decorative purposes rather than comfort or function. Following the French Revolution and execution of Louis XVI there was a natural break from the lavish royal style.
The Directoire period is much more subdued and austere (although many of the themes of the simpler late Louis XVI furniture continued). Motifs include arabesque and Etruscan themes, wreaths, torches, and other warlike emblems (reminiscent of the Revolution).
As the Empire period began, the economy boomed and a new haute bourgeois aristocracy who would desire fine furniture and decoration appeared. In its plainest form, Empire style is dignified and striking; however, furniture and decorative arts of the period are notable for exhibiting a confusion of motifs. Other design elements regularly found in Empire pieces are dolphins, swans, and mythical creatures. The royalty and aristocracy desired a return to luxury and opulence and there was a distinct shift to delicate, rounded forms, and fine decoration in furniture. The large form and geometric design of Empire furniture continued but lighter woods, such aselm and ash, were introduced and used with, or instead of, mahogany. At the top of buffets, chests, armoires and secretaries a slight curvature is often seen, lending softness to the otherwise straight lines common of the period.
Cabinets, commodes and desks crafted in the manner of Boulle and similar renowned craftsmen of the 18th century became a feature of fashionable salons, though such pieces tended to lack the finesse of the original. This post-war exposition, intent on showing the world that France would once again lead the way in creating new standards of taste in fine and decorative art, served as a showcase for the most talented designers and craftsmen of the time, and officially launched the period of an emerging style that would become known as the Art Deco Period (1925-1940). The graceful curves of the early 20th century Art Nouveau period were suddenly replaced with a new kind of angularity. Geometrical shapes, symmetry and streamlined designs offered a stark contrast to the sinuous, organic feel of the Art Nouveau period.
This bold new style, a quintessential symbol of fine taste, would endure for over 20 years, and prove to be the ultimate reference in the history of modern furniture design. Ray and Charles Eames, designers whose pieces have continued to symbolize the Mid-Century movement, wanted to produce furniture that was not just the best it could be, but also could be used by “the greatest number of people for the least amount of money.”