Charles Eastlake Furniture
Charles Eastlake furniture was the brainchild of Charles Eastlake (1836-1906), a British furniture designer and architect. 'Eastlake style' as it is referred, is the common name for his style of furniture, which became widespread throughout the last half of the nineteenth century.
History and Background
Eastlake envisioned the furniture as a response to his hatred of Rococo and Renaissance Revival styles, which were hugely popular during the Victorian era. Whilst Eastlake furniture is technically Victorian and considered as such, with its main well-spring of popularity between 1870-1890, it also makes a crucial breakaway from the excessively high-relief carving and curves of the other styles which were produced during this timeframe.
Eastlake wrote Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details and stated in the book that he believed furniture and decor in the home should be handmade or at least manufactured by machine workers who injected a love and pride into their creations. Eastlake was a believer in straight lines and designs inspired by 'country work', often executed in oak and similar fruitwoods.
Writing in his book, he encouraged ‘honesty’ in production, construction and finishing of any particular piece, calling for rectangular joinery and hand crafted, solid wood furniture. He advocated a furnishing style whereby a single influence dominated the fittings and furnishings of a home.
The ultimate 'Eastlake style' differed from Charles Eastlake's original concept, as some versions were ornately adorned and others minimal. Eastlake condemned the use of varnishes and stains to disguise inexpensive woods, calling instead for oiled, naturally coloured finishes.
Eastlake's naturalistic beliefs filtered down into production, as manufacturers began to use his ideas and drawings to mass-produce furniture. The objects in this range were designed to be easy to clean, though they were frequently artistically complex.
Guide for collectors
Pieces of furniture in this style comprise incised lines, flat surfaces (for the aforementioned ease of cleaning), and low relief carvings. The mass produced pieces were considerably more affordable than many other styles of the era. T
he furniture can be found regularly in antique shops, and authentic Eastlake pieces can be identified by a notable lack of curves in their structure, an aspect which Eastlake deplored about other furniture at his time of writing, stating:
“Chairs are invariably curved in such a manner as to insure the greatest amount of ugliness with the least possible comfort. The backs of sideboards are curved in the most senseless and extravagant manner; the legs of cabinets are curved, and become in consequence constructively weak; drawing room tables are curved in every direction -perpendicularly and horizontally- and are therefore inconvenient to sit at, and always rickety. This detestable ornamentation is called shaping.”
He favoured instead geometric shapes and straight-backed chairs, drawing upon the influence of Early English rural forms, with a somewhat Elizabethan or Early Jacobean flavour; perhaps uncomfortable, but formed with solid sustainable joinery. It was designed to be rectangular and practical. Eastlake furniture ranges wildly in price and is widely available from many auction houses, including Ebay, which lists several hundred items of this nature.
Value & notable auction sales
In 2008, an armchair in the Eastlake style sold at Christie's auction house for £7,500 following an estimate of £4,000-6,000. eBay listed over 100 Eastlake items, with prices ranging from $49.99 (for two Eastlake chairs in need of restoration) to $29,500, as well as a rare 1880 Eastlake Gilt Iron Library Stand, with a Buy It Now price of £3, 450.00, in November 2011.
An Eastlake spool cabinet sold for $350 at St Charles Gallery in New Orleans on June 5th 2005, alongside several other Eastlake pieces such as a Marble Top dresser, which sold for $125, and a Centre Table, sold for $70. Pricier Eastlake items which have sold include a Walnut Bedroom Suite, which sold for $1000 at the same auction house on 3rd April 2011, and an Eastlake sideboard, which sold for $800 on 21st November 2010.