A History of European Furniture and Interiors


Beginning with the courts of fifteenth-century Flanders, Burgundy and Italy, furniture design reflected contemporary architectural forms and ornament from the late Gothic period into the classical Renaissance.  During the seventeenth century, the magnificence of Baroque art was echoed in the design of luxurious suites of furniture to serve the imperatives of absolute rulers like Louis XIV at the Palace of Versailles, whose fashions were widely imitated at other courts.  With the eighteenth century came an interest in creating more intimate spaces such as the private salon, and furniture design responded accordingly. Early in the nineteenth century, the classicism of Napoleonic France and the eclecticism of Regency England gave rise to an explosion of new forms, styles, ornaments and techniques in furniture and interiors. This eclecticism continued throughout  the nineteenth century in multiple stylistic revivals, finally ending in new, more modest styles of design aimed at a middle-class audience, as with the widely influential Arts and Crafts Movement.

Formal lectures each week provide the course structure during the first half of the class; students have an opportunity to discuss concepts and examples in the less formal second half of class.  In addition to background reading, students are asked to develop visual analytical skills through looking at examples of furniture and interiors in museums and historic houses.  More technical aspects of furniture-making such as materials and techniques will also be considered, and students will have practice in descriptive writing before a class visit to the galleries of the Ashmolean Museum. The written assignment will ask students to combine visual analysis with historical context.

Programme details

Courses starts: 25 Jan 2024

Week 1: From Late Gothic into the Renaissance:  architectural style and the development of private spaces

Week 2: Mannerism in European Design:  pattern books, ornament, and the rise of Antwerp

Week 3: Early Baroque:  exotic new materials and European furniture  

Week 4: Louis XIV and the Furnishing of Versailles  

Week 5: Northern Baroque:  the Anglo-Dutch style of William and Mary

Week 6: Mercantile Culture in London:  eighteenth-century furniture and interiors

Week 7: Aristocratic Culture in Paris:  eighteenth-century furniture and interiors  

Week 8: Visit to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Week 9: The Post-Napoleonic World:  eclecticism in nineteenth-century furniture and interiors

Week 10: A Revolution in the Home:  Arts and Crafts and the roots of Modernism  


Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend at least 80% of the classes on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Megan Aldrich

Megan Aldrich is an independent scholar who lectures and writes about aspects of architectural and design history. Recent publications include Art and Authenticity (Lund Humphries, 2012); Thomas Rickman and the Victorians (Victorian Society, 2019); and articles in Garden History (2016), Furniture History (2018, 2020), the Cultural History of Color (Bloomsbury, 2021), and the Cultural History of Furniture (Bloomsbury, 2022). She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Hon. Editorial Secretary to the Furniture History Society.

Course aims

To enable students to perceive the relationship between furniture design and architecture in differing historical contexts.

Course objectives:  

  • Weekly lectures will familiarise students with architectural styles that had the greatest impact on the design of historical furniture.
  • Through practising visual analysis, students will gain confidence in approaching the study of furniture and the interiors which contain it.
  • Weekly sessions will enable students to begin to analyse the design of historical furniture in the context of interiors.


Teaching methods

The course will be taught by well-illustrated lectures during the first half of each week,  followed by more informal discussion sessions which will reinforce the historical context and stylistic analysis of furniture.  Student are encouraged to be active participants; in addition to reading, they are asked to research this subject by directed 'looking' at important examples in furniture history, including the websites of major museums such as the V&A, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Rijksmuseum, the Louvre, and the Musee des arts decoratifs in Paris.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • recognise features of the major European architectural styles that pertain to furniture design and interiors;
  • gain familiarity with the forms and ornamentation used in the design of furniture and interiors over time;
  • understand the relationship of historical furniture to the interior for which it was intended.


Assessment methods

The assessment for this course will be a final paper of approximately 1,500 words that combines visual analysis with historical information and background reading.  Suggested topics will be given in Week 2.  In class we will practice the art of visually analysing and describing furniture, and a practice piece of work will be carried out during the visit to the Ashmolean Museum in Week 8.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

No background knowledge is required, although some familiarity with architecture, art history or history is very useful.

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)