European vs. American Furniture: What Are the Differences?
Furniture design takes its influence from people, culture, and history. As such, every piece holds at least a little bit of its country of origin within it. While global travel and communication make unique designs more widespread than ever before, there is still a beautiful and beloved distinction between European and American furniture. With every piece, you can see the influence of art, architecture, and design from across the ages. To truly look at the differences between American and European furniture, you have to consider the differences in each region’s history, culture, and ancestry. Knowing how these design trends vary is essential to finding furniture that speaks to you. Learn to appreciate the grandeur behind these pieces with this guide to the differences between European and American furniture.
The Great American Melting Pot
To understand why American furniture designs are the way they are, you must first understand the history, culture, and other influences that have evolved into the modern furniture market. America is larger and newer than any European country. Though many Americans are of European descent—and thus have traditions and designs rooted in that ancestry—there are myriad other cultural influences that have merged over the centuries to create a diverse melting pot of designs. You’ll find some European inspiration in American furniture, but you’ll also find influences from every other corner of the globe. Furthermore, the country’s younger age means design trends focus less on monumental historical eras and more on cultural mixes and compatibility.
The European Tradition
European furniture roots itself in tradition, and that tradition goes back hundreds of years. Though you can find diversity across the different European nations, it’s easier to find the precise origins of various design inspirations or movements. For example, Renaissance furniture is iconic and vastly popular. Everyone knows this style originates from Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance. In turn, Italy takes its inspiration from historical architecture and the designs of Ancient Greece and Rome. It’s easy to trace European furniture styles across time and countries. Furthermore, European furniture trends tend to stay longer and move more slowly. Centuries worth of tradition and inspiration are still going strong today, which means you can feel that rich history in every single piece.
History Inspires Modern Day
The history of Europe and America determines their respective furniture styles. As mentioned above, many European trends are a result of significant historical eras. This is why you have styles based on the tastes and influences of monarch reigns like Louis XVI, Queen Anne, and Queen Victoria. Iconic civilizations and art movements also have a lasting influence and create iconic styles, like classic Italian and Jacobean. European furniture designers have a rich tapestry of history and culture from which to draw inspiration. Additionally, the monarchical history of many of these countries brought attention to grand royal styles that then became popular throughout their nations. These trends center on elegance, wealth, and intricate beauty. As such, modern European furniture still honors these qualities in its design.
America has vastly different influences than the European countries. While Europe’s love of rich designs and detailed ornamentation influenced some trends—like the American Empire and Hepplewhite styles—others come from more utilitarian needs and influences. Take Pennsylvania Dutch styles, for example. Drawing inspiration from Germanic influences and striving to meet the needs of a simple, hard-working lifestyle, this furniture trend brings simplicity and functionality to the home. Shaker settlers had a similar influence as they prioritized functionality over decoration. While these furniture trends moved away from intricate designs, their focus on utilitarianism created a tremendous standard of quality. Overall, the lack of monarch reigns or unified cultural influences led American homes to prefer functionality over any universal fashion. Over time, this evolved into a desire for comfort over affluence. Today, many Americans see a high-quality piece of furniture as something that lasts a long time and works well rather than something that boasts exquisite design or centuries of historical influence.
Different Displays of Wealth
When noting the differences between European vs. American furniture, you must also consider how the people of each region view and display their wealth. For Americans, size is a major sign of wealth. Due to property’s massive size and the much more recent history of purchasing and selling land, purchasing and owning property is still an essential part of the American Dream. Owning a large house with a lot of land is a way to display your affluence. Meanwhile, European countries are home to smaller cities with less room to expand. Furthermore, many families live in homes that have been around for centuries. The idea of owning a large house on a large property isn’t as feasible or as popular in Europe as it is in America. Instead, Europeans tend to display their wealth through unique and lavish furnishings. That means prioritizing handcrafted, ornate, and extravagant styles of furniture and other décor.
The Modern Mix of Widespread Design
The world is now more accessible than ever. Designers can easily travel to different countries to learn and practice new designs. This global travel makes it easy to share styles across political and physical borders. Furniture companies do business internationally and spread designs that are unique to their home country and culture to homes all around the world. This leads to a great mixture of cultures, influences, and practices. The lines between countries and their styles blur to create furniture designs that are less distinct than their predecessors. These designs have become popular and accessible all around the world. However, this mixing and matching of cultures can also lead to more love and attention for certain classical styles. As some furniture companies focus on styles that fit every home across the globe, distinct and traditional styles become a symbol of wealth, class, and cultural appreciation.
Differences Today—and Why They Still Matter
These historical influences and cultural differences have created the notable furniture styles we know today. American furniture focuses more on comfort and functionality. As such, designs are more casual, showing their quality through comfort and durability rather than intricate details and patterns. Meanwhile, European furniture sticks to its tradition of elegant appearances and thoughtful, hand-crafted designs. Though these and other styles are more accessible across the world, their differences mean something. A high-quality piece of furniture proudly displays its tradition, history, and influence. This is what makes European furniture so valuable to those who want exquisite, high-end pieces in their homes. Luxury Italian furniture and other classical collections are a significant statement of great wealth and refined taste, making them a desirable addition to any affluent home.