Charles Locke Eastlake is responsible for the Victorian-era trend of creating sturdy and simple furniture. It became popular over the two decades between 1870 to 1890, taking people away from the intricate carvings and high-relief approach with numerous curves.
Eastlake furniture offers straight lines, minimal decoration, and maximum comfort. It would be fair to call his work one of the first styles that could be called “modern” from our 21st-century perspective. It is about as far from the Rococo and Renaissance Revival options that were so popular during that time in history.
The concept promoted by Eastlake was one of careful craftsmanship. He felt that beautiful furniture should be comfortable instead of being more of a display piece.
The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition hosted an entire exhibition of Eastlake’s work in 1876. Its popularity has led to many counterfeits, which is why knowing how to identify this furniture is a critical skill for collectors and enthusiasts.
Who Was Charles Locke Eastlake?
Eastlake was born in Plymouth in 1836. He was trained by Philip Hardwick, which led him into the field of architecture at an early age.
Although he designed furniture during the Victoria era, he didn’t make any of it himself. Professional cabinet makers and others would create what he envisioned, offering a niche market for those who didn’t like the idea (or couldn’t afford to have) luxurious details carved into each item.
Eastlake published a book in 1868 called “Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details. It ended up being quite popular in his native Britain.
About four years later, the book was published in the United States to a similar success level.
During his career, Eastlake would serve as the Secretary to the Royal Institute of British Architects. He would also be the Keeper of the National Gallery in London for twenty years.
Eastlake passed away in 1906 at the age of 70. He is buried at Kensal Green.
The Details of Eastlake’s Work Always Shine Through
Although it is theoretically possible to mimic Eastlake’s work (and some during the Victorian Era tried), you can find some telltale traits that identify these highly collectible pieces.
You’ll find Eastlake incorporated fewer curves with each design than what you’ll find in typical Victorian furniture. It still includes some, so it isn’t wholly modern. The unique incorporation of geometric details is what sets it apart the most.
Eastlake needed to make money with his work, so he included some Medieval and Renaissance Revival details in ways that didn’t overwhelm the design. You might see a small panel in a bed frame or a little relief carved into a chair’s arm, but nothing more intricate.
Some Eastlake items can include Far East and Middle Eastern designs or influences, making it challenging to identify some objects.
If you’re unsure of the furniture you have or are looking at, try to see the wood grains. Eastlake loved to emphasize the natural components of his materials. You can see this most often with his cherry, oak, walnut, and rosewood items.
Dark varnishes sometimes spoil these details, making it harder to spot Eastlake’s influences. Ebonized wood was occasionally used for American pieces, sometimes with the intent to simulate bamboo.
Quality Levels Covered a Broad Range in the Victorian Era
Do you know how there’s a massive price difference between an IKEA furniture design and something from a luxury brand?
It was that way during the Victorian era. Furniture makers produced items with varying qualities to hit multiple price points. That’s how they could stay in business.
Because of this business approach, you can find some Eastlake pieces are highly affordable today because they weren’t made to be in luxury homes.
If you find something mass-produced with an Eastlake design, it’ll be highly attractive and mostly affordable. The only exception to that rule involves the items made by Herter Brothers or others with highly regarded brands in the antiques industry.
Most of Eastlake’s chairs featured leather or fabric upholstery, although some side chairs were made without it.
You’ll find most pieces offer squared or angular designs for the usable surfaces. Eastlake loved to make lamp tables (called gypsy tables at the time), using turned legs and metal claw feet to create a stunning display that worked for almost any room.
If you want to include antiques from the Victorian era in your home, consider Eastlake’s designs. When you can identify them, there’s an excellent chance that you could score a fantastic deal on a well-made item.
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