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Ancient Interiors – Furniture

Historical furniture – Greece and Rome

The use of furniture is as ancient as humanity. I wanted to examine some of the historical use of furniture in the ancient home.

The earliest known furniture of the ancient world was often depicted in other items such as vases. Although not many samples of furniture survived, you can find a few on display in museums and artist renditions.

Ancient Greece

Beginning with the Minoans that occupied the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea, there has been evidence to show that people had furniture such as chairs in their residences and government buildings. At an excavation at the Palace of Minos, a very large stone throne was discovered. Humans have been scientifically curious for centuries and sought to make life easier through innovation such as the comforts of furniture. 

At this time, homes were much simpler. Ancient peoples, especially male, didn’t spend a lot of time at home. They participated in civic activities, religious ceremonies and at the gymnasiums. 

The focus was on the design of the architecture but the few pieces of furniture included chairs, tables and beds made from wood, often with inlays of other types of different color wood (marquetry) and precious metals. The diphros okladias was designed similar to the Egyptian x-framed stool and a Greek designed stool the bathros, which was a flat, square top with 4 feet. The Greeks at this time often used Egyptian design in their furniture but eventually developed their own design called the klismos chair, which design we still use today. The curve design of the klismos chair is an indication of the understanding of ergonomics and there are some indications that this same design feature was used for their infants.

Beds were either on the floor if you were poor or on a platform with feet with rugs of animal skin, woolen cloth and linen for the wealthy. 

There was couches that would be used for dining that was raised within reach of the dining table in their andon, or dining rooms.

Klismos chair

Their design influence spread throughout the Mediterranean area until there was a clash between two cultures, Greek and Roman. In 31 BCE at the Battle of Actium brought about the end of Greek independence and ushered in the Pax Romana (Roman peace). This was the end of the austerity of the Greek interior design style. The Romans brought a lighter more flamboyant use of textiles and decoration to their homes, to such a degree that legislation would have to be brought forth to curb the enthusiasm. It was an age of decadence and luxury.

Ancient Rome

The furniture in the Roman home changed in many ways. The tables were now round, with tripod legs for stability. The feet of furniture were designed to look like the feet of animals, lions in particular. They had tables that had a center podium that was inspired by the East. There was a half moon table (mensa lunata)that was accompanied by a crescent shaped sofa.

The Roman’s loved entertaining which meant there was more importance on food receptacles and their dining tables. The inlays of their wood design became more intricate, using prized wood from far away.

There many styles of Roman chairs, or sella. The most extravagant was the sella curulis, a chair of state also designed similar to the Egyptian x-chair. You can see depictions of this symbol of power on Roman coins.

Their opulence even moved into the bedroom. The Roman bed was grander than the Greek. They were bigger and very opulent. A wealthy Roman could have a step leading up to their bedsteads. The wood was engraved with precious wood and tortoise shell. The feet were of either carved wood, gold or silver. A beautiful place to lay ones head. 

Through the excavation of city’s of Pompii and Herculaneum we can see the beauty of Roman interior design frozen in time. 

Influence in Modern interiors

Around the late 18th century and early 19th century in the United States, the popularity of the Greek revival is seen in the government buildings and residences such as the White House and southern plantations and all along the Eastern seaboard. This is the Greek Revival period. 

In luxury residences today you definitely see the influence of the Roman opulence with the tall domed ceilings, inlayed wood and Corinthian columns.


Furniture – World Styles from Classical to Contemporary; Miller, Judith; Dorling Kindersley LTD, 2005

To Purchase the above book please follow the following link:

Judith Miller

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