Editorial By: Dr. Christopher Cooper
Eastlake – is it a man, a piece of furniture or an architectural design style? The answer is, all of the above. Traditionally, furniture makers imitated architectural forms, but Charles Eastlake reversed this process. Eastlake houses had architectural ornamentation that was then copied into the furniture inside the house.
Charles Lock Eastlake (1836-1906), an Englishman, wrote his book ‘Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details,’ in response to his dislike of the over-the-top Rococo and Renaissance Revival styles popular during the Victorian era. The book was published in 1868, reprinted in America in 1872, and became so popular it required six editions within eleven years.
This newer, simpler style (popular during 1870-1890) began with an idea by a man who was an architect and arts writer, not a furniture maker. Pieces of furniture in the new Eastlake style had low relief carvings, mouldings, incised lines, geometric ornaments, and flat surfaces that were easy to keep clean (see image above). Also called Cottage Furniture, the mass-produced pieces were much more affordable than the fancy Revival pieces.
Notwithstanding this, Eastlake railed at the so-called “knock-off” mass-produced American pieces of furniture with glued-on mouldings and carvings. Eastlake himself, commenting on his influence in the United States, said, “I find American tradesmen continually advertising what they are pleased to call Eastlake furniture, the production of which I have had nothing whatever to do with, and for the taste of which I should be very sorry to be considered responsible.”
The use of rugged woods like oak and the elimination of applied decorations were characteristic of Eastlake furniture. Eastlake condemned the practice of using stains and varnishes to disguise inexpensive woods, calling instead for oiled, naturally-coloured finishes.
Therefore when looking to purchase Eastlake furniture (keeping in mind Charles Eastlake never built any furniture himself) look for good quality pieces wrought from oak and fruitwood with carved, rather than applied decoration. However, there are many of the “knock-off” mass-produced pieces out there, which still look good, and can be had for close to naught.