Wilma and Tony Burton have included several pieces of Eastlake furniture in their 1893 Queen Anne painted lady in Riverside, California, because as Wilma notes, “It’s easy on the eye.”
One of their favorite pieces is this oak fainting couch upholstered in mohair that has pride of place in the second parlor, which the Burtons have furnished as a music room. Bought at auction a couple of years ago, it came from the Cinderella House, a well-known “painted lady” in Redlands, California.
“We get a lot of compliments on it,” Wilma says. “It’s the only fainting couch we have, and I love it because it reminds me of the Victorians; every house should have a fainting couch.”
Tony agrees, adding that he and their cat, Pita, know first-hand that it makes a great place for naps.
The fainting couch’s style may not have suited Eastlake exactly, but he couldn’t have quibbled with Tony’s testimonial, because it proves that form and function are foremost, even a century and a half later.
By Victorian standards, Eastlake furniture is pure and simple, which makes it fit in with any style of Victorian home. There are many Eastlake variations available. Although not all of the prettier pieces would please Charles Eastlake, it’s not necessary to buy only examples that follow his rules. But knowing and understanding his design principles assures that the piece will please for years to come.
Here are some prime characteristics to look for:
1. Rectilinear form. Search for simple shapes on the body of the piece; cut out the C and S curves.
2. Incised decoration. It cuts into the piece like a groove. It should enhance the form of the piece, not overwhelm, and follow the overall lines.
3. Crisp, flat carvings. No 3-D decoration or applied ornament.
4. Stylized and/or geometric motifs. Naturalistic designs that look like real flowers are a throwback to earlier styles, something Eastlake was trying to avoid.
5. Restrained decoration. Decoration should accentuate the piece, not overwhelm or obscure its beauty.
6. Honest construction. Joinery should be clearly expressed, not hidden from view or covered with decoration.
Eastlake observed in Hints on Household Taste that “the best and most picturesque furniture of all ages has been simple in general form.” He had no way of knowing that today’s tastemakers would hold Eastlake furniture up as prime example to illustrate his point.
By Nancy Ruhling
Photography by Jaimee Itagaki