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French Design: Learn About Louis-Style Furniture

July 07, 2021

The quick succession of French King Louis' (XIV, XV and XVI) gave us the super luxe look of Versailles and imperial power expressed in interiors. But, they also invented the ultimate in chill furniture: the easy chair and the sofa. Read on to learn about each of the Louis', their over-the-top styles and how to make that royal look work in your home.

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Photo: Tomas Espinoza

Three Kings and an Iconic Style Legacy

The reign of the Louis' — Kings Louis XIV, XV and XVI — lasted from 1643 to 1793 and marked a high point in French culture, French global political power and European furniture design. These monarchs produced a century-and-a-half-long run of classic design that ended abruptly when Louis XVI (husband to Marie Antoinette) lost his throne ... and then his head. Their style lived on long after their reigns and influences design and furniture trends to this day. "You can see the influence of the Kings Louis in Art Nouveau, Art Deco, multiple Victorian revivals and even in 20th century designs," says Dennis Harrington, head of Sotheby's English and European Furniture Department. Let’s take a look at the three Louis' styles and the furniture pieces that bear their names.

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Photo: Sothebys

Louis XIV Bureau Brisé

Louis XIV, the famed Sun King, used architecture, gardens and interiors to create the ultimate image of majesty. His reign from 1643 to 1715 marked the apogee of the French monarchy’s power. He turned Versailles from a modest hunting lodge into a showroom for his luxurious style. The Sun King was all about excess with a capital E, so in his era you get pieces like this luxe desk with gilded legs and ebony wood, bone and tortoiseshell inlay. The hinged top opens to create a small, flat writing surface, so for all its over-the-top details, this is a super practical piece of furniture. Its name, bureau brisé, is French for “broken desk,” a reference to that fold-out top. It's the forerunner of the desk in your home office today.

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Photo: Sothebys

Louis XIV Carved Armchairs

Even armchairs looked like thrones during Louis XIV's epic 72-year reign. This was a guy who wanted you to know he ruled much of the known world with divine-ordained power. He wanted you to see his power in his furniture, so everything from desks to chairs were heavy, grand and pompous. These Louis XIV armchairs have straight backs, long, curved arms and and are dripping with carved ornamentation.

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Photo: Sothebys

Louis XIV Commode

Louis XIV furniture is a luxurious exercise in excess, like this Rococo commode (cabinet) made by rock star cabinet maker André-Charles Boulle sometime between 1710 and 1715. It has an Egyptian green marble top, ebony wood veneers, a gilt bronze frame and drips with carved leaves, flowers and scrolls. It is peak Louis XIV-era maximalism.

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