Details Make the Difference in Baroque, Rococo Style Furniture

It’s golden with ornate decorations, upholstered in beautiful silk: It’s a baroque sofa. Or is it a Rococo-style sofa? Both of these furniture styles are beautiful and in-demand, but do you know the difference between Baroque and Rococo?

baroque style

When looking at these styles, clearly, you can see why it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between Baroque and Rococo. Each has defining features, even though the two styles also have a lot in common. 

Baroque style definition

The term “baroque” refers to a period spanning from the 17th century until the beginning of the 18th century.  This is when the style that started in Italy around 1600 became popular throughout Europe and beyond.

  • According to Stip International – and Webster’s dictionary — the term baroque likely comes from the Portuguese word, “barocco.” It means “uneven pearl.”
  • The style above all uses classical orders and ornaments in a free and sculptural way. Its features evoke movement and have a dramatic effect.
  • Baroque style found its way into most parts of culture. This particularly includes gardens, architecture, music and art.
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Gilded wood with symmetrical details indicates the Baroque era.
Heavy wooden legs on the table and the carved arms of the sofa play to the Baroque style.
Heavy wooden legs on the table and the carved arms of the sofa play to the Baroque style.
Flower motifs are common in both styles, but Rococo uses lighter colors.
Flower motifs are common in both styles, but Rococo uses lighter colors.

What Does Baroque Architecture Look Like?

Baroque architecture emphasized bold massing, colonnades, domes, light-and-shade ‘painterly’ colors.  The style also uses the bold play of volume and void. This is the era when huge staircases came into fashion too – Wikipedia.

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Inlaid wood — called marquetry — was a hallmark of much Baroque-style furniture.

What Makes Furniture Baroque Style?

A number of features make a piece of furniture baroque.

It’s Very Ornate. 

You can identify furniture from the Baroque era by its ornate and luxurious look. Elements include intricate, complicated and exaggerated decorations. As a result, often they are flowers, leaves, and cherubs.

It’s also Luxurious

Baroque style furniture is very detailed and overly decorated. The overall look is grand and lavish but equally symmetrical and balanced.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, Baroque era interiors were luxe: Furniture was upholstered in rich velvet and damask, often with gilt-wood and marquetry framing. The style remained fashionable until about 1725.

rococo furniture - gold armchairs and narrow entryway table - baroque mirror
Lighter colors and the thin, elegant legs of these pieces mark them as Rococo.
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A fanciful mirror and marble-topped console are of a typical baroque style.

5 Specific Features of Baroque Furniture

The museum explains that Baroque style furniture has several defining characteristics:

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Baroque-style lamps and accessories have iconic leaves and scrolls in the design.
Raised, gilded decorations and the rounded shape of this dresser are Baroque.
Raised, gilded decorations and the rounded shape of this dresser are Baroque.
Gold and darker shades of ivory are typically Baroque style.
Gold and darker shades of ivory are typically Baroque style.

Foliage Motifs

The baroque style uses a lot of plant life in its decoration. In view of this, some of the most common ones are scrolling foliage and flower garlands.

Marquetry

Marquetry involves laying different-colored wood veneers onto the surface of furniture. Actually, French and Dutch cabinetmakers were the ones who started this technique.

Putti

This is an Italian word that means “boys.” Commonly tt refers to the chubby infants used in much of Baroque décor.

Crests and initials

Monograms used for decoration were common in Baroque-style furniture. Likewise, heraldic crests are also seen in this style.

Lambrequin motif

We’ve already pointed out that that rich textiles were common in the Baroque era. The features of these fabrics were used in other media as well. For example, one of the most common is a tasseled cloth motif, called a lambrequin.

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Silks were used for upholstery in the lighter Rococo period.

Who Used Baroque Style?

The French were the main adopters of the Baroque style. Louis the XIV’s reign marked the end of the Renaissance and the rise of this very influential style. This was often considered the most magnificent of the French period styles, writes the V&A.

Why Was Baroque Important?

  • Great furniture designers and cabinetmakers thrived in this era.
  • Andre Charles Boulle was the cabinetmaker to King Louis XIV. Boulle was one of the greatest artists in the field of inlaying ebony wood with tortoiseshell, brass and other metals.
  • He created the beautiful pieces that belong to the Baroque Louis XIV age.
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Gilded architectural details were common in both styles.
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Decorated wall panels were part of most Baroque interiors.

What Makes Furniture Baroque?

  • Unique legs — Originally, Baroque era furniture had turned or pedestal feet.  Later, curved legs were the main element, becoming a hallmark of the period.
  • Smaller tables — This is the period when small, round and oblong tables and consoles became common, according to the V&A Museum.
  • Inlaid features — Chests and cabinets, many with inlaid wood panels, were very popular.
  • Quality wood — These pieces were made from the best woods and came mainly from Italy. Cabinetmakers mainly used oak, walnut, chestnut, and ebony. Rosewood, sandalwood, tulipwood, and other exotic woods are used for much of the ornamentation.
  • Wood elements — Upholstered pieces can be covered in cloth or leather, but wood is always a prominent feature.
  • A gilded finish — The first pieces of baroque furniture were coated in a clear  layer of varnish. Over time, preferences changed and different types of Baroque style furniture were made. The wealthy favored pieces with gold-painted wood as a status symbol. Sometimes, this paint had a crackled finish.
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Mixing Baroque pieces with more modern selections works well in today’s spaces.
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This dining room is a great example of how grand and over-the-top Baroque rooms can be.

The Difference Between Baroque and Rococo Style

Rococo

The lighter, more graceful Rococo style originated in France at the end of the Baroque period. Furthermore, it is generally considered a subset of the Baroque era, notes SF Gate HomeGuides. In fact, some historians call it late Baroque.

Interior designers and artists used the Rococo style, but not architects. Regardless, it was a shorter stylistic period: The Baroque era spanned the 17th century, but the Rococo era lasted from the 1730s to the 1760s. This coincided with the reign of Louis XV.

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Lighter colors and touches of chinoiserie are common in Rococo style.
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Rococo still makes ample use of gold, but the general colors are lighter and more pastel.

The term Rococo comes from the French word rocaille. The word denotes the shell-covered rock work that was used to decorate artificial grottoes, writes Britannica. Rocaille also refers to how the French love arranging stone gardens in the shape of seashells.

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Silk upholstery and lighter shades of ivory are in the Rococo style.

Rococo Style Characteristics

A number of details and features can help distinguish Rococo style:

  • While Baroque is opulent and heavier –more “serious” – Rococo is lighthearted, frivolous and whimsical.
  • Decoration, especially abstract and asymmetrical detail, was typically used to create a sense of flow.  
  • Often, it includes Asian influences like chinoiseries. Trade with the Far East influenced decorative motifs, and these patterns and lacquer work became very fashionable.
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The muted colors, chandelier style and gilded accents of this more modern living room hearken back to Rococo.

Rococo is Rebellious Design

This style originated as a “revolt against the dull and solemn Baroque designs of the royal courts of France in Versailles.” Just as today’s interior designs tend to be more casual, the Rococo age was more informal than the Baroque style. The general mood was all about comfort, warmth and privacy.

rococo furniture - gold armchairs and narrow entryway table - baroque mirror
While still grand, these golden Rococo details are lighter and more sprightly.
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The pieces in this room are more Rococo than baroque because of the thinner legs and toned-down chandelier.

Rococo Meant Unified Design

According to DenGarden, the Rococo interior and its elements are meant to be one organism, creating a unified effect. Custom-made pieces were part of the effort to create interior décor that went together. Much planning went into furniture placement, the shapes of the pieces and the decorative features.

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This highly coordinated bedroom may look Baroque but the silk upholstery hints at its Rococo origins.

Rococo Gave Rise to Personal Space

Rococo style also promoted a one-story salon to create intimacy. It was not as focused on impressing guests, as was the Baroque era with its two-story rooms.

This era also saw the rise of the boudoir, as well as rooms devoted to pleasures like games, music and reading. This era gave us the chaise longue.

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Elegantly curved legs on the chairs and console are Rococo style.

Rococo Was an Interior Update

Instead of starting over entirely, wealthy estate owners kept the baroque architecture of their homes, but renovated in the interiors with the plasterwork, murals, mirrors, furniture, and porcelain in a lighter, more feminine style.

This Rococo room features a more fanciful chandelier, a marquetry table and lighter upholstery with an Asian influence.
This Rococo room features a more fanciful chandelier, a marquetry table and lighter upholstery with an Asian influence.
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Wall sconces often feature light-hearted designs with various flora.

Rococo and Baroque Have Much in Common

When you look at Baroque and Rococo furniture, they seem quite similar.

  • Both are heavily decorated.
  • They also have curvy legs in common – and sometimes animal legs.
  • They both feature intricate embellishments of scrolls, leaves and shells.

But look closer and the differences start to emerge: 

  • Rococo furniture is more delicate and feminine and uses lighter shades of ivory, gold and pastel colors.
  • Chairs legs are thinner, seats have an organic form and wider arms.
  • Moreover, symmetry is not critical.
  • Upholstery in the Rococo style is similar to that of Baroque, however, it includes brocatelle and flowered or painted silks.
  • Rococo uses serpentine curves and features lighter topics such as romantic love and portraiture.
  • Baroque art is darker, more dramatic and theatrical.
  • Rococo interiors often highlight large candelabras, magnificent chandeliers and wall sconces, chiefly used to create a cozy space.
  • Mirrors also feature prominently to intensify the feeling of open space. 
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This modern take on Rococo style has an organically shaped seat and animalistic feet.
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These Rococo accessories are all in the typical ivory, accented with gold.
Opulent silk is typical of Rococo interiors and paired with modern pieces, it's a current twist on the era.
Opulent silk is typical of Rococo interiors and paired with modern pieces, it’s a current twist on the era.
Today's Rococo-style rooms more likely feature wallpaper rather than carved wall panels. 
Today’s Rococo-style rooms more likely feature wallpaper rather than carved wall panels. 
rococo furniture - gold armchairs and narrow entryway table - baroque mirror
The ornamentation on the mirror and cabinet are Rococo because of their asymmetry.
rococo furniture - gold armchairs and narrow entryway table - baroque mirror
Less gilded ornamentation and the silk lampshade and upholstery indicate Rococo style.

rococo furniture - gold armchairs and narrow entryway table - baroque mirror

Falling Out of Favor

Rococo style started to drop in popularity by the 1750s. Critics in France attacked its trivia focus and over-the-top decoration, thus leading to the more austere Neoclassic movement in the 1760s.

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Less over-the-top but still grand, this Rococo bedroom features silk upholstery.
rococo furniture - gold armchairs and narrow entryway table - baroque mirror
Both eras used sumptuous fabrics but velvets and heavy brocades were more common in the Baaroque style.
rococo furniture - gold armchairs and narrow entryway table - baroque mirrorView in gallery
This room is Rococo because of the lighter fabrics and red hues, which are an Asian influence.
rococo furniture - gold armchairs and narrow entryway table - baroque mirrorView in gallery
A Rococo dining room would look like this, but with daintier, more feminine lines on the chairs.

Rococo grew out of the Baroque era, so while the two styles have different characteristics they nonetheless have quite a few similarities. These common elements make it easy to mix and match the pieces.

Those who love the ornate nature of these styles may be happy to go full-on Baroque in a space. On the other hand, it’s quite alright to incorporate just a few pieces of Baroque and Rococo furniture into today’s modern interiors. This means that people who prefer cleaner lines can still have some gilded whimsy in an interior.