WoodCentral's Book Reviews

World Styles from Classical to Contemporary

by Judith Miller

DK Publishing: 2005
Hardcover, 560 pp., $60.00
ISBN 0-7566134-0X

     A few months ago, I found this book while browsing through the shelves at a local bookstore. The fantastic pictures and descriptions in the book ignited my interest in furniture history. This is not a how-to book, but if you want an understanding of the details that are characteristic of particular furniture styles -- as well as some background on the historical, political and social forces that influenced these designs -- you probably won't find a better reference manual.
     The book covers furniture from around the world over a 3,000-year period and includes over 3,500 excellent photographs and illustrations. Regardless of your interests and tastes -- from Chippendale to Capellini or Newport to Newson -- you'll find examples and information on styles, history and biographies that will broaden your knowledge of furniture development.

Typical page layout

     Furniture has twelve chapters, covering styles from the ancient furniture of Egypt, Greece and Rome to European styles of the 17th to 19th centuries. There are also chapters on Chinese, South African and American furniture, as well as a discussion on contemporary designs and directions. Each chapter opens with an historical overview of the era being examined.
    For each era, there is also a timeline of events that helps the reader understand factors that influenced each era's furniture designs and materials. The historical discussion in each chapter is followed by a section called "Elements of Style," where that era's prominent stylistic details are thoroughly examined, followed by examples of magnificent manifestations of furniture in different countries. Within each style, Miller presents the reader with an ongoing understanding of how the three basic furniture forms -- chairs, tables and case pieces -- evolved and who the influential makers were.
     The appendices of this book are also noteworthy. They include:

  • Anatomy of Furniture. Contains descriptions of many common furniture elements such as plinths, friezes, escutcheons and cross-banding.
  • Useful Addresses.A listing of museums, galleries and historical buildings around the world.
  • Further Reading. An extended list of books and publications on the subject.
  • Dealer Codes. A list of identifying codes for dealers and auction houses that have been involved in the selling of many of the pieces featured in the book.
  • Glossary. A six-page section containing valuable, concise definitions and descriptions of important furniture terms.
  • Index. A well-cross-referenced index to individuals, countries, styles and furniture types presented in the book.
     In short, Furniture shows in brilliant photographs and scholarly research how historical and social events influenced furniture development. This will be an excellent addition to your reference shelf or, better yet, a well-read and often-referenced display for your coffee table.
. . . Alan Young