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Decorating with Style: A Guide to Accent Furniture Styles

Accent Furniture & Occasional Table Styles

Accent furnishings are functional yet decorative. They harmonize a room, linking principal furniture pieces to each other. They can also define those areas within the same room that are used for different purposes. Occasional tables, such as coffee or end tables, are the perfect companion in front of a sofa or beside an armchair. A bench in your entryway will say “welcome” as well as giving visitors a place to sit when taking off their shoes. A china cabinet or buffet in the dining is practical yet elegant. Do you enjoy entertaining? Add home bar or a pub table set in your family room. The style of the individual accent pieces you choose for the rooms of your house give your home its character and expression. To help you decide which trend best reflects who you are, the following is a brief guide outlining some of the more popular furniture styles.


Inspired by fashions, trends and social customs of the past, traditional coffee table is characterized by a very formal and stately feel. Usually in darker woods with lustrous finishes, traditional styled furnishings are set apart by detailed carvings, ornate moldings, and leaf or scroll motifs.

While one type of traditional furniture might resemble any of the other sub styles, the differences can be subtle: Queen Anne and Sheraton often used broken pediment detailing while Victorian pieces generally did not; Colonial furniture was constructed of lighter woods whereas Regency furnishings were commonly made from mahogany; Queen Anne tables featured cabriole legs while Chippendale furniture displayed claw-and-ball feet.

Chippendale: Named after Thomas Chippendale, a cabinetmaker, this style is known for its elegant proportions and subtle decoration. Emerging from the English rococo style of the mid-18th century, Chippendale creations were adapted from the late Baroque, Louis XV and Georgian periods. The two sub categories, Chippendale Gothic and Chinese Chippendale, are evidence of Chippendale’s ability to borrow from and incorporate other styles and make them his own.

Colonial: Colonial furniture, from the time of the first settlers until the end of the American Revolution in 1776, was based on the trends found in the colonists’ countries of origin. However, furniture makers used the materials available to them, primarily from North America and the countries they traded with on a regular basis, such as Africa, India and the Caribbean. Colonial furnishings tended to be dual-purpose, like the blanket chest, which served both as a place to store bedding and as somewhere to sit.

French Provincial: Created by craftsman of the French provinces during the 17th and 18th centuries, French Provincial furniture pieces were simpler versions of the more elaborate and formal Louis XIV and Louis XV styles. They used local woods and fashioned furnishings for day-to-day living rather than furniture catering to the needs of the court. However, this style of furniture still retains elements of drama, extravagance and elegance.

Louis Philippe: Comprised of elements retained from the French Restoration period, Louis
Philippe furniture has less ornamentation and smoother, rounded lines. Dark woods like mahogany, walnut and palissander continued to be used, and beech and pear woods were introduced. Table tops were frequently made from black, white or gray marble and sometimes had sculpted borders. Louis Philippe furnishings that included architectural details like crenellated rails and foliate spandrels were known as cathedral style.

Queen Anne: This furniture style became popular during Queen Anne’s reign, 1702-14. Most recognizable by the cabriole leg, one that curves outward at the top and inward at the bottom, ending in an ornamental foot, Queen Anne furnishings, like end or side tables were typically constructed from walnut. Furniture pieces have graceful curves and ornamentation motifs include scallop shells, scrolls, Asian figures and animals.

Regency: Furniture produced before and during King George IV’s reign, from 1811 to 1830, Regency style recreated classical structural and ornamental elements from the Greeks and Romans. Egyptian motifs were popular. Chinoiserie, the European interpretation of Asian design, especially Chinese, became very popular during this period. Detailing for Regency furnishings relied on contrasting exotic wood veneers and gilding rather than elaborate carving.

Sheraton: Graceful and refined, Sheraton furniture is a Neo Classic style distinguished by delicate straight lines, open construction, contrasting veneers, and motifs such as the acanthus leaf, stars, shells, eagles and urns. Named for English designer and cabinetmaker, Thomas Sheraton, this style is one of the most reproduced. Common forms of ornamentation used for console tables and other furniture pieces with legs, included bandings, carving, marquetry, fluting, reeding and inlay.

Victorian: During Queen Victoria’s reign, from 1887 to 1901, furniture was mass-produced for the first time. Because of the Industrial Revolution and the ability to reproduce everyday items such as furniture, Victorian design freely borrowed from other historical periods. Victorian style is characterized by heavy furniture pieces with dark finishes and elaborate carvings. Fabrics used to upholster occasional chairs and sofas are typically textured such a velvet, plush, tapestry, embroidered or hair cloth.


Contemporary and modern styles are often mistaken one for the other. Although they are related, they are distinctly two separate design forms. While both contemporary and modern emphasize geometric form and minimal detail, contemporary furnishings tend to incorporate detailing and color whereas modern furniture uses neutral palettes with minimal detail.

Contemporary: Simple in design, contemporary style utilizes a variety of finishes, palettes and materials to create texture and visual interest. Geometric forms are often softened by curved corners. Furniture is typically constructed of lighter woods, exposed woods or metal. Other popular materials for contemporary furnishings are rubber and acrylics.

Modern: Modern design emerged in the second half of the 20th century and reflected the new technologies, materials and philosophies of the Machine Age. Furniture defines interior space using geometric form and neutral palettes.  Furnishings, often asymmetrical, with sleek and polished surfaces, emphasize function. Metal and glass are common construction materials.

Other Styles

Art Deco: Inspired by modern art movements such as Impressionism and Cubism, Art Deco emerged around 1915 as a design style. Borrowing heavily from French Art Nouveau as well as the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Deco furnishings tend to be made from exotic woods and are rich in color and painted detail such as marquetry and enameling. A reaction to more traditional and ornate furniture styles, Art Deco furnishings are typically geometric in form, contrasting bold vertical lines with rounded corners.

Retro: A Contemporary sub group, Retro recreates the stylings and philosophies of the popular designers of the 40's, 50's and 60's. The pop art of icon Andy Warhol is often used as inspiration. No surprise then that Retro style furniture often utilizes primary colors and madcap shapes. They can also reflect post-war optimism and domesticity when the spare forms of every day items are juxtaposed with the textural combination of wood and glass.

Urban: Since both Contemporary and Modern furniture are large in scale, Urban style furniture is specifically designed for apartments and condominiums. Lines are clean and wood finishes in dark brown or black are typically textured with brushed metal highlights or glass accents. Urban style is minimalist in feel and smaller in scale.

Transitional: Blending elements of Traditional and Contemporary styles, Transitional furniture is simple yet sophisticated. Emphasis is on uncluttered detail. Less formal in appearance than more classic furnishings, while retaining the comfortable feel of contemporary pieces, Transitional furnishings typically contrast straight lines with tapered legs. Furniture is of a moderate scale, but upholstered pieces like sofas or armchairs can be overstuffed. Since Transitional style makes use of texture rather than color, palettes are muted or earth-toned. Woods are lustrous with medium to dark finishes. In general, the finished look of a transitionally styled room is balanced by careful use of color and shape.

Country furniture reflects the geographic location of its origin and the range of sub categories are as numerous as the regions they represent. The more traditional old Country furniture tended to be heavier and darker. But due to European influences and the adaptation of Colonial furniture by pioneers of drastically different regional conditions, later trends of Country style furniture used lighter finishes, simpler detail and were smaller in scale. Casual Country furniture is usually constructed of wood, with milk-painted or natural wood finishes. Formal country can be described as busy, with lots of detailing and flourishes, in medium to darker woods and finishes.

Cottage: Furniture lines are simple and graceful, emphasizing comfort and functionality. A common finish for this style of furniture would be distressed or weathered; furnishings can include whimsical details such as stenciling. Colors are bright and textiles are more folksy and warm. Common motifs when adding details to a sideboard or buffet are animals or fruits and flowers. Other typical characteristics of this style of furniture are turned legs, spindles and split backs.

French Country: Fashioned after the more formal traditional French Provincial style, French Country is considered much less ornate and lighter both in substance and in feel. Woods are commonly painted white or in pastel colors with hand-painted accents or stenciling using fruit or floral motifs. Natural materials such as terra-cotta and marble are more commonly used. Cane is another much-used natural element, especially for the backs of chairs. Other materials incorporated into the French Country style are wire and wrought iron.

English Country: This style is based on interpretations of rural English designs from past eras. While similar to other country stylings that utilize themes and colors taken directly from the garden, English Country furniture relies more on dark stained or distressed finishes. Variations on a theme, woods such as oak or pine may be light, painted or thinly white-washed to allow the natural wood to show through. Textiles include embroidered rugs and floral prints. The focus is on merging the comfort of a pastoral cottage with the understated wealth of a country manor.

Rustic: This style reflects typical aspects of country life, but is not based on a specific geographical region. Rustic furnishings are recognizable by their simple lines, rough-hewn look and practicality. They are simple and sturdy, with a minimum of ornamentation and lightly distressed or natural finishes. Furniture can feature textured, natural elements like tree knots, twig ends and bark. Rustic interiors typically possess exposed walls, wood paneling, rough-hewn beams and stone fireplaces.

Shaker/Mission: Often confused with each other, Shaker style emerged in the late 1700’s, while Mission appeared in the early 1900’s as part of the Arts and Crafts movement. Reflecting their belief that the beauty of an object was found in its usefulness, Shakers crafted their furniture with clean and spare lines, using lighter colors.

In reaction to the mass production of the Industrial Revolution and to the heavily ornamented pieces of Victorian times, Mission furnishings celebrated hand-crafted furniture created by craftsmen. Clean and spare like Shaker furniture, Mission style is more rectangular in form with darker finishes. Characteristic design features of this style are exposed joints and slats.


Asian style encompasses both Japanese and Chinese influences.

Japanese: This style, characterized by a minimal, pared-down look with no architectural detailing, creates a living space that is harmonized and serene. Natural materials such as bamboo and rice paper are common materials in Japanese design. The use of natural light is maximized. Furniture is typically low to the ground. Horizontal lines, which represent man’s relation to the earth, are prominent in Japanese décor. Color schemes tend to also imitate nature, the grays and greens of foliage contrasted with warm wood tones.

Chinese furnishings are distinguished by their stylized or ornately carved features, with hand painted designs on highly polished lacquered finishes. Dark woods are favored over light ones. Furnishings tend to be large scale. Red is a popular color because it is a symbol of good luck; other bright colors are also used as accents.