Régence Vs Regency Style Antique Furniture

Drawing-room, Royal Pavilion, Brighton, East Sussex, 1945-1980. Artist: Eric de Maré
Drawing-room, Royal Pavilion, Brighton, East Sussex in England.

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The antique furniture universe is filled with terms or phrases that sound quite similar but actually refer to very different things. Here we examine a pair of these "soundalikes" to give you succinct explanations of what they mean, how they differ, and how not to confuse them.

Régence Vs. Regency

Both the terms Régence and Regency have the same literal meaning, since "régence" is the French word for "regency." Both lent their name to a brief historical period when a substitute reigned in place of a king as well. Despite these similarities, however, Régence and Regency do not refer to the same thing in antique furniture terms. In fact, a century and a Channel separate them, and they are quite different styles.

First, the French: Régence

Régence—also known as French Regency, just to complicate matters further—refers to an era in early 18th-century France, when Philippe, the Duke of Orléans, ruled the country for his grand-nephew, Louis XV who was only five years old when he inherited the throne. The Régence period officially ran from 1715-1723, though—as is typical with antique furniture periods—the Régence style is most often applied to a slightly broader time range: the 1710s to around 1730.

Régence is a transitional style that bridges the gap between the Baroque that characterized Louis XIV's reign and the Rococo that flourished after Louis XV assumed power. Furniture became much lighter during this period, quite a bit more delicate and sinuous in shape, with curved chair backs and bulging panels. It also became quite a bit more ornate. For example, Bombé and serpentine-shaped chests, loose-cushioned armchairs, and the use of caning all developed during this period.

Other characteristics of Régence style:

  • Slender, cabriole legs
  • Ornate feet, such as hoof feet
  • Ormolu and marble accents
  • Woods: Walnut or oak used for the body of pieces; walnut and rosewood surface veneers
  • Motifs: mythological creatures such as monsters and dragons, Chinoiserie, florals, shells
  • Prominent use of C- and S-shaped scrolls

In some cases, all of these characteristics are present, while in other pieces they were used in varying combinations that point toward Régence when a piece is being examined. 

Over to England: Regency

The Regency refers to the period in Great Britain when George, Prince of Wales, assumed control of the country after his father King George III was deemed mentally unfit to rule. It officially lasted from 1811 to 1820, when the old king died, and the Regent became King George IV. In stylistic terms, however, British furniture from approximately 1800 to 1837 might be labeled Regency, like the piece shown above.

Regency furniture continues the popular Neoclassical style that greatly influenced the work of designers like Hepplewhite and Sheraton, along with their followers, in the previous century. However, it didn't just adapt motifs from ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian furniture—it tried to duplicate the furniture: Greek klismos chairs, Roman curule chairs, monopodium tables and scrolled-end couches (known as "Grecian daybeds") all became popular pieces. In general, Regency furniture is dark, massive and monumental, but it also posses simple, geometric shapes—curvilinear or straight lines that form a sharp, clean-edged silhouette.

Other characteristics of Regency style:

  • Extensive brass inlay and ormolu accents
  • Column-shaped, saber, and X-shaped legs
  • Claw-and-ball, and paw feet
  • Woods: Mahogany, rosewood for the base pieces; rosewood and zebrawood for surface veneers
  • Motifs from Antiquity: lyres, laurel wreaths, acanthus leaves, mythological creatures such as Sphinx, griffins, and gods

In some cases all of these characteristics present, while in other cases they were used in varying combinations that point toward Regency. 

So, while they sound almost identical, Régence and Regency furniture are decidedly different styles with very different looks about them. If you're looking for counterparts for further study: