Eastlake Style


("Banner of Liberty" Publishing House, 1873)

Charles Locke Eastlake (1836-1906) was an architect and designer who profoundly influenced popular taste in the decorative arts in the 1870s and 80s. He was born in Plymouth, England to an admiralty law agent and studied architecture under Philip Hardwick and at the Royal Academy schools. He worked first as a journalist, then as the secretary at the Royal Institute of British Architects from 1866 to 1878. After this he was the keeper of the National Gallery, a post held earlier by his uncle Sir Charles Lock Eastlake (with whom he is sometimes confused).

Though he never practiced formally as an architect, he was highly influential as a writer in this field and in the decorative arts. In 1872 he published A History of the Gothic Revival , which was the first scholarly work to explicate the Gothic Revival movement in England. In 1868 he published Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details, portions of which had previously been published as a series. This manual on interior decoration was immensely popular and influenced public taste in the decorative arts. It even went through four editions in Great Britain and seven in the United States in the 1870s and 80s.


Kitty's Class Day
(Loring, 1849)


In Hints on Household Taste Eastlake voiced his concern that people did not have an educated taste in art and that this was reflected in their choice of home décor. Their tendency was to choose decoration based on what was novel and fashionable instead of what was beautiful and well made. He hoped to rectify this by providing basic tips on interior design.

Much of Eastlake's message was a reaction to both the overdone Victorian Rococo Revival style and a decline in manufacturing standards brought on by mass-production in the Industrial Revolution. He disliked the eclecticism of his own era and wanted a decorative art where form and ornament followed function. He traveled in Europe for a period early in his career and gained there an admiration for Gothic style - not just its decorative form but also its quality of construction - and he reflected this in some of his own designs. Eastlake advocated simple solid, unvarnished furniture with abstract, rather than naturalistic decoration. His ideas were by no means unique or new. Theorists like John Ruskin and Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc had also written similar calls for a return to simplicity. These early voices contributed to what later developed to be the Arts and Crafts movement.


Mark Twain's Sketches Old and New
(American Publishing Co., 1875)

Given the popularity of Hints on Household Taste, American furniture makers in particular were quick to capture the market on this style, producing large quantities of "Eastlake style" furniture, which typically was "rectilinear in form, made of oak, walnut or ebonized wood; with turned spindles, balusters, and finials; chamfered edges, and structural hardware; and often finished with gilt-incised geometric surface decoration." (Bolger, 423). A. Kimbel and J. Cabus, Daniel Pabst, and Herter Brothers are a few of the manufacturers who designed in this style.

Detail from pbw01811
The Spirit World
(Colby and Rich, 1880)

Though some of this directly mimicked the drawings Eastlake included in Hints on Household Taste , a great deal of it was not necessarily what Eastlake had intended, particularly with respect to quality. At one point, he complained: " I find American tradesmen continually advertising what they are pleased to call Eastlake furniture, the production of which I have had nothing whatever to do, and for the taste of which I should be very sorry to be considered responsible" (quoted in Bolger, 423). Manufacturers went so far as to even try to create the "Eastlake" folding chair, refrigerator and bathroom.

The "Eastlake style" book cover was also popular in the 1870s. In creating this style, designers adopted some of the surface forms of furniture decoration. Eastlake covers were usually black stamped (sometimes blind or gold stamped), and they emphasized abstract geometric patterns, with the most idiomatic feature being thin defined lines ending in a stylized leaf (see detail examples below). The covers also often include other geometric forms like wheels, bands of repeated patterns or other stylized natural forms. As part of the Eastlake craze, the Mackeller, Smiths and Jordan Foundry even created an Eastlake typeface, though it was not used on a high percentage of Eastlake covers. (see examples of similar typefaces on pbw01144 and pbw02011) There was no publisher or designer who appears to have specialized in Eastlake style; just as many furniture manufacturers adopted the name for their products, so to did many publishers have their own interpretations of the "Eastlake" cover style.

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Detail from pbw01144
The Cats' Arabian Nights
(D. Lothrop and Company, 1883)
  Detail from pbw01292
Grandmamma's Letters from Japan
(James H. Earle, 1877)


Bolger, Doreen, et al. In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetics Movement . Rizzoli: New York: 1986.

Eastlake, Charles Locke. Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details. London, 1868; Boston, 1872; New York: Dover, 1969.

Madigan, Mary Jean Smith. Eastlake-Influenced American Furniture 1870-1890. Yonkers, NY: The Hudson River Museum, 1973.

Wiffen, Marcus. "Eastlake style." Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. New York:
Grove, 1996. (online version is available at some colleges and universities)

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