In the middle of the 17th century, the king of France, Louis XIV, favoured a very grand style of interior. Furniture was heavy and finishings were fussy. Gilding was everywhere - on doors, furniture, mouldings - and yet more decoration was added with boule marquetry on furniture, (using tortoiseshell and brass) and detailed paintings on ceilings.
Panels were carved and painted, plaster covings imitated fabric swags, huge Aubusson tapestries hung from the walls, tiles were made from rich marble and geometric parquet was to be found on the floors. guillotine door This very elaborate style clearly reflected the kind of king Louis XIV was - an absolute monarch who reigned for over 72 years, through many major wars. France was the leading power in Europe and the king's palaces and their interiors showed this.
During the early 18th century Louis XV or more likely, his talented and cultured mistress, Madame de Pompadour, sculpted this heavier style into something considerably more delicate and feminine, introducing the most French of attributes - the curve. From 1723 - 1760 these curves took on a rather frivolous manner of their own resulting in the style called Rococo, where symmetry was lost and nature took over as branches, leaves, icicles and waterfalls were the favoured decorative motifs.
This period saw the introduction of many pieces of furniture that exist in modern homes today - the console table, fauteuils (open armed chairs) and the chaise longue. Today's love of exuberant wallpapers of Indian and Chinese design were just as up-to-the-minute back then -though commodes were also the height of fashion.
By the time the new king Louis came along, direction changed again and the wild, silly curves of the Rococo were replaced with the elegant and formal lines of neo-Classicism. Pompeii and Hurculaneum had been excavated earlier in the century and the appreciation for classic Roman and Greek artefacts was reflected in the interior and exterior styles.
The classical arch became popular again, panel mouldings were simplified and walls were plain plaster or simply painted in neutral colours, such as grey. Symmetry found its place again and decorative devices came from classical figures, swags, garlands, laurel wreaths and urns.
Flamboyance could still be seen in the beds where ostrich feathers adorned many a corona and the fabric of choice was the eye-boggling Toile de Jouy. (Take care when examining these fabrics as they often showed the events of the day in all their gory glory including the guillotining of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.)
The end of the aristocratic regime brought about a departure from any sumptuousness that remained and the period known as the Directoire, when a board of directors ruled France, saw a much simpler and more delicate sense of style. Curvy cabriole legs were replaced by straight, and furniture became angular and severe in shape. Elaborate marquetry was replaced by plain waxed or painted woods and fabrics had simple stripes and delicate florals as decoration, all of which anticipated the Empire style.
In 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself Emperor of France and his military and political leadership could be seen in everything French for the next 10 years - including France's architecture and interior styling.
The classical Roman and Greek designs remained the core of this era's style but were advanced, so to speak, with military devices. Obelisks, sphinxes, chimera, swans, laurels, wreaths adorned every piece of furniture, from dishes to clocks to insignia styled handles and locks on cabinetry. Rooms became simpler and more masculine, chairs acquired a military style of low back, turned front legs and the sword shaped sabre legs at the rear. The influence of military tents prompted rooms covered wall and ceiling, in striped fabrics and even the trimmings in heavy fringes had a very militaristic feel.