What is Louis XVI Style and why do I love it?
Louis XVI Style refers to the style defined by the period in France under the reign of King Louis XVI (1760-1789) — the last French monarch before the Revolution. Inspired by the discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum, this era saw a revival of Greek and Roman styles. Tastes were slowly transitioning from the more ornate styles of the Rococo period that featured the curved lines characteristic of the Louis XV period. By the time of Louis XVI, there was a sharp movement away from the Rococo style, as curved lines and heavy ornamentation became unfashionable, giving way to clean, straight lines. Furniture and interiors were refined, sophisticated, calm and symmetrical. This style is known for its classical ornamentation and motifs, including acanthus scrolls, oak and laurel leaves, swags and Greek key.
Some characteristics of Louis XVI Style:
Chairs: The backs are mostly straight and upright. A square back is known as à la Reine and round or oval backs are referred to as en cabriolet. The frame is wood and the backs and seats upholstered. The legs are always straight, and are often fluted and tapered, with simple, understated ornamentation. Particularly attractive is the ornamentation at the corners under the seat. These blocks/squares, known as “die joins”, are often decorated with carved flowers or rosettes, either painted or gilded.
I love Louis XVI style dining chairs and always try to have them in my shop and to use them for interior design projects. For me, their elegant but refined silhouettes are especially charming. They are understated, are equally appropriate in formal or informal rooms, and their clean lines enable them to fit well into both contemporary and traditional settings. I have great fun placing a set of Louis XVI style chairs around a very modern marble or glass dining table — a bit unexpected perhaps, but a beautiful juxtaposition nonetheless.
I especially love painted furniture that has worn into a lovely patina. Because the style is so adaptive and unobtrusive, Louis XVI furniture can be at home in contemporary, traditional or transitional settings, and has a timelessness about it. The chairs can be easily updated with a fabulous contemporary fabric, the perfect way to blend old and new. The construction of Louis XVI Style chairs also lends itself to having fun with the upholstery. Why not throw caution to the winds and upholster the back in a different fabric to make these wonderful chairs even more interesting?
Image credit, Restaruation de Meubles, Atelier Bence
Commodes/Chests: Like the seating of the Louis XVI style, commodes and chests are rectilinear and clean. There is an admirable harmony of proportion in these pieces. The fronts are always rectangular and are often decorated with bronze fittings. The ends are flat and the legs straight, sometimes tapered. The front corners are sometimes chamfered, but most often at a right angle. Some period pieces are also adorned with exquisite marquetry.
This is a beauty that we found in Paris–a genuine period piece dating from the late 18th century, just arrived in our 1stdibs Gallery Showroom!
Tables: Tables were quite varied in the Louis XVI period. They are mostly made of mahogany and fruitwood, and can be round, square, oval, rectangular or kidney shape. The legs are always straight, often tapered, and their friezes (or aprons) are decorated with rosettes, interlacing plaques, fluting, or moldings of bronze or copper. Tops are made of wood or marble.
Desks: Bureau plat (flat-top writing desks) were still current during this period. Like all Louis XIV style pieces, they are rectangular with straight, often fluted legs. Ornamentation often consisted of bronze or copper molding on drawer panels or aprons.
A Silvered Louis XVI Style Bureau Plat with a black leather top
Secrétaires à Abattant (fall-top secretaries) continued to be popular, although they became a bit more restrained in their design. These desks can be both quite handsome and an efficient use of space. We had this beauty in our collection a couple of years ago. A bit smaller in scale, this is known as a Secrétaire de Dame. I just love its quiet elegance. Not fussy, and a good example of quality and fine craftsmanship of this period.
Although it is a thrill to find a genuine piece from the Louis XVI period, there are many examples of beautiful and well crafted pieces made in the style of Louis XVI. Many of the dining chairs we have in our collection are in the Louis XVI style, made in the early to mid 20th century.
It is always fun to see a tasteful modern interpretation of the Louis XVI style. Just arrived in our showroom, this gilt wood bench covered in animal print is our whimsical nod to Louis XVI.
Louis XVI pieces reflect a refined, understated elegance that gives them an admirable versatility. They fit serenely into almost any setting, and bring a touch of sophistication to any room, whether modern or traditional, formal or informal.