Eastlake Furniture Identification Guide

Learn to spot this iconic design style from the Victorian Era.

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eastlake style antique settee

Eastlake furniture is a distinct style named after Charles Locke Eastlake (although not to be confused with his uncle, Charles Lock Eastlake). Eastlake was an architect and furniture designer who embraced minimal decorations and clean lines. The following guide should help you identify Eastlake furniture since most people have trouble spotting it. By the end, you should at least be able to differentiate it from other types of Victorian furniture. 

Eastlake Furniture History

Eastlake furniture was popular in the late 19th century from approximately 1870 to 1890. Charles Eastlake introduced the design principles of this movement when he wrote Hints on Household Taste in Furniture in 1868. In the early 1870s, these ideas traveled from England to America, where large furniture manufacturers adopted the style. 

eastlake furniture examples

Wanamaker’s Furniture
John Wanamaker, c. 1887

Wanamaker’s Furniture
John Wanamaker, c. 1887

antique eastlake wardrobe from the victorian era

Eastlake emphasized his desire for meticulously crafted, refined, and simple furniture in the book. In many ways, he was directly objecting to the elaborate styles from the Victorian era that were sloppy and unnecessarily showy to him. The Eastlake style is a direct transition between traditional Victorian furniture and the modern furniture movement that came decades later. Subsequently, Eastlake’s teachings pull direct inspiration from the Arts & Crafts movement.

Also, Eastlake spoke against the mass production of furniture and preferred skilled artisans and cabinetry makers to construct pieces with pride. However, since this furniture was more straightforward and cheaper to produce, factories ironically mass-produced the style with varying levels of quality. 

Beginner Tip

When shopping for this furniture style online, you’ll often see “east lake.” Unfortunately, this misspelling is a common mistake for people who don’t know that Charles Eastlake is who the furniture is named after. This furniture style is not named after a lake on the east coast.

Common Eastlake Features

People of the time called Eastlake furniture “cottage furniture” because it was more straightforward and less expensive than other furniture styles. Although the overall styling is reminiscent of the Arts & Crafts movement, the Eastlake style was inspired mainly by Gothic Revival, Middle Eastern, and Asian design. 

Below are some characteristics that can help you accurately identify Eastlake furniture. 

1. Geometric Shapes

Furniture generally has geometric shapes with squares, rectangles, diamonds, and half circles. These shapes are simple and modern, and you won’t see a lot of scrolling, ribbons, or fancy curving motifs. 

2. Shallow Carvings

Most Eastlake furniture pieces have some carving. These etchings tend to be shallow and nature-inspired. For example, you can find plain renditions of flowers, acorns, or leaves.

3. Straight Lines

Another iconic characteristic of Eastlake furniture is horizontal and vertical stacked incised lines. Like the carvings, these lines are shallow and undecorated. 

4. Natural materials.

Furniture makers manufactured pieces using raw wood, either oak, walnut, or cherry. The furniture is usually lighter-toned than other Victorian furniture because furniture makers used oils instead of stains. Furniture featured a lot of marble and utilitarian fabrics like leather. Many pieces had some brass or copper embellishments with symmetrical geometric motifs. Brackets and handles also usually had some design with a shallow relief. 

Identification Tips

When learning to identify Eastlake furniture, you should first look for the abovementioned characteristics. Next, you should search for a label from the furniture maker. For example, if you find a marking that says Herter Brothers, you will know that the antique is museum-worthy and has some intrinsic value. 

eastlake chairs and setee

Illustrated Catalog
Jordan & Moriarty. c. 1880

Illustrated Catalog
Jordan & Moriarty. c. 1880

eastlake style sideboard and bed

Remember, there will be significant variation in the construction quality and quantity of decoration. Charles Eastlake preferred minimal decoration, but he still appreciated minor embellishments. Some furniture manufacturers held to the minimal ornamentation, and others adopted a more embellished and complex design that still has most of the above features, just in more significant numbers. Some furniture pieces were more simple, and others were more elaborate. Some were machine-made, and others were handmade.

Generally speaking, the thought is that American companies mass-produced the more elaborately decorated machine-made Eastlake pieces. On the other hand, English furniture makers handcrafted Eastlake furniture that sticks more to minimal decoration. 

Important Note

Eastlake is a style of furniture that creators never intended for people to paint. Therefore, most antique dealers recommend keeping the original oiled or shellacked finish on Eastlake furniture.

Eastlake Examples

Antique Eastlake Dresser

$825, etsy.com

Antique Victorian Eastlake Parlor or Occasional Table

Antique Eastlake Parlor or Occasional Table

$425, etsy.com

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