The Eastlake furniture style, as envisioned by its namesake Charles Lock Eastlake, came about as a response to his aversion to the over-the-top Rococo Revival and Renaissance Revival styles popular during the Victorian era. Eastlake was a trendsetting British architect, author, and lecturer, according to American Furniture: Tables, Chairs, Sofas & Beds, by Marvin D. Schwartz.
As a proponent for "careful craftsmanship," he called for the manufacture of "simple sturdy furniture." His book, Hints on Household Taste, published in England in 1868 and the United States in 1872, expounded on these ideas which went hand in hand with the Arts & Crafts Movement.
Although Eastlake furniture is technically considered Victorian, being popular from 1870 to 1890, it breaks away from the excessive high-relief carving, classical elements, and numerous curves of other styles produced during this time frame. Schwartz adds, "The first glimpses of modernism" can be seen in Eastlake's reformed style. As with many other innovations in design, the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 hosted a display of Eastlake furniture.
Noting the Details
In contrast with other Victorian styles of furniture produced in America featuring classical motifs, Eastlake furniture is more geometric and incorporates more modest curves with a nod toward modernism. The style sometimes includes mild Renaissance Revival and medieval influences that do not overwhelm the designs. Eastlake pieces can include Middle Eastern or Far Eastern design elements as well.
Wood grains were often emphasized, with oak and cherry used in Eastlake pieces as well as rosewood and walnut. Sometimes it is difficult to tell what type of wood was used because of dark varnishes coating the surface. In American pieces, ebonized wood was used from time to time, especially for those with an intentional Asian flair. The wood on Asian inspired pieces may simulate bamboo in some instances as well.
In contrast to Mission furniture, Eastlake pieces were not completely devoid of ornamentation and decorative elements. However, the ornamental carving seen on these pieces is most often lightly incised rather than deeply carved. In American Furniture: Tables, Chairs, Sofas & Beds, by Marvin D. Schwartz, the author explains: "Eastlake forms were strongly rectilinear and had geometric ornaments, turnings, brackets, trestles, and incised linear decoration—all easily executed with machines."
Eastlake Marble Topped Table
Popular pieces of furniture (like this Victorian marble-topped table) were produced in many styles, including Eastlake. This one exhibits the typical geometric design elements and lightly incised carving associated with Eastlake pieces, which could be simple or elegant. American furniture makers tended to embellish pieces with more decorative elements when compared to those from England. Some side chairs were made without upholstery. Most other forms of Eastlake seating were upholstered with either fabric or leather.
Keep in mind that this type of furniture was made in a broad range of quality and price levels when it was new. Most pieces were mass-produced by large manufacturers in the United States who kept up with the current styles of the day, including furniture companies located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and New York. Unless a piece in the Eastlake style is identified as being made by Herter Brothers or another highly regarded name in antique furniture doing business in the late 1800s, they generally don't sell for high sums today although they may be attractive.
Eastlake Récamier Daybed
Daybeds made in the Eastlake style can have more elaborate decorative elements like the récamier, more generically known as a fainting couch, shown here, or they can be quite plain and devoid of wood embellishments. Many times only the feet will exhibit real traits of Eastlake design since simplicity was markedly advocated by Charles Lock Eastlake in his book Hints on Household Taste.
When this style of furniture is more elaborately decorated, it is generally assumed to be of American origin as the English followed Eastlake's calling for sturdy furniture in basic designs.
Eastlake Style End Table
Eastlake end tables and side tables can be quite traditional in their styling, like the one shown here. It follows Eastlake's ideology of simplicity with only minor embellishment and decorative flair. Other tables in this style can pull in a bit more finery into their designs, or they may reflect the Asian influence so popular in the 1880s.
Parlor tables with a square top and four slanted legs were also made with Eastlake influences. These tables were referenced as "gypsy" tables in early catalogs, but are now called lamp tables in most instances. Some have beautifully turned legs and may be fitted with metal claw feet holding glass balls.
Most Eastlake style furniture can be found fairly reasonably priced today, with the exception of marked Herter Brothers pieces and others of extraordinary quality or provenance.