amy azzaritopast & present

past and present: rococo + modern rococo roundup

by Amy Azzarito

concert room of sanssouci palace in potdam, germany by eduard gaertner, cooper-hewitt museum

After the Louis chair guide, a number of you commented that it was really the rococo style that made your heart flutter. I promised to delve into the style in greater detail. And I keep my promises! Here’s the ins and outs of rococo.

Rococo is really all about the two C’s – curves and comfort!

Beyond that, there are three characteristics of rococo style:

  • Curved lines
  • Exoticism
  • Forms suggesting rocks or shells

madame de pompadour by françois boucher, c 1757

We can’t talk about Rococo without talking about Madame de Pompadour. Louis XV was known for his love of two things – hunting and women. Madame de Pompadour was born Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson and she was one of a string of royal mistresses (Only titled nobility could be presented at Versailles so the marquisate of Pompadour along with its estate in Limousin was purchased for her). In her role as royal mistress, Madame de Pompadour was challenged to keep an easily bored Louis XV entertained. In addition to the countless suppers, festivities and shows, de Pompadour distracted the King by embarking on a series of building and redecorating projects. The Petit Trianon was one of Marquise’s projects. She commissioned the neoclassical building  from architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel.

2 photos of madame de pompadour’s private apartments: Ethan Robey

As part of my graduate studies, I had the opportunity to study 18th century French decorative arts in Paris. (I might have mentioned this before!) One of the unexpected highlights of the trip was a visit to Versailles as our French instructor had worked at the chateau for 35 years and was able to get us into all the private rooms (I even saw Louis XIV’s bathroom!). One of the highlights was Madame de Pomadour’s private apartments – this was not on the regular tour. The rooms were small and intimate as was the fashion, and perfectly coordinated in the Rococo style. (Don’t you love her little alcove bed? They were called lits de travers and were introduced in about 1740.) I should add that this is only one example of Madame de Pomadour’s taste. She had many apartments in a number of different residences. After her death, it took a team of notaries working for a full week to compile a list of all of her possessions!

Looking to bring a little Rococo into your home? I’ve rounded up my favorite Rococo-esque items – everything from Pamela by Samuel Richardson (a favorite of Madame de Pompadour) to rococo-esque drawer pulls!

CLICK HERE for the rest of the post – including facts to know and my favorite books about Rococo (and Rococo roundup with 25+ items!) after the jump!

objects from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s Rococo: Continuing the Curve: (clockwise from top left) 1755 mirror after a design by Thomas Johnson (English) 1756 wall light by François-Thomas Germain (French), 1739-1740 candelabrum by Claude Ballin II (French), 1750 wall clock (French)

Rococo is all about the curve – C-scrolls and S-curves abound! Rococo frequently has references to rocks and shells and asymmetry is de rigueur! The Rococo style was the rage in France from about 1730-1760 during the reign of Louis XV. (I went into all the Louis background here.)

a reading of molière by jean françois de troy, c.1728

The painting above “A Reading of Molière” is often used to illustrate the 18th century’s newfound obsession with that other ‘C’ – comfort. I mentioned above that Madame de Pompadour’s rooms were small. This was a huge shift in the 18th century – from large ceremonial rooms in palaces to smaller, intimate and generally more cozy spaces. While Louis XIV had lived virtually his entire life in public, Louis XV created an entire sphere of parallel private rooms – a private dining room, a private bedroom, etc.

bergère à oreilles from les collections du musée des arts décoratifs

Part of that shift to coziness led to the development of more comfortable seat furniture.  The bergère was the chair of the moment. Note the difference between the bergère above and the armchairs in the slightly earlier De Troy painting. A bergère armchair has in-filled arms usually a thick feather cushion supported by webbing. Not only did this make the chair more comfortable, but it also kept out any drafts. The bergère was the favorite chair of the most fashionable women of the day. The actress Charlotte Desmares packed 11 bergères into her three bedrooms home. Madame de Pompadour was also a bergère enthusiast – she had 14 at the ex-Hôtel d’Evreus in Pars and 36 Château de Ménars in the Loire Valley!

from left: fauteuil cabriolet à coiffer from les collections du musée des arts décoratifs and chaises voyeuses from nissim de camondo

There was furniture for nearly every situation – we’re talking about chairs here, but I could do the same for tables or any variety of furniture! The chair above left is a cabriolet à coiffer. That center dip allows for the perfect placement of an exquisitely coiffed hairdo. The chair on the right is a voyeuses. Although this example was made in 1789 and is not in the Rococo style, its form is one that was conceived during the Rococo period. On the top of the chair is an elbow pad along which one could lean to watch a card game.

from top: louis xv walnut duchess from 1st dibs and louis xv style duchesse brisee from 1st dibs, $4,875

The scale of the bergère grew until it could not longer reasonably be called a chair. A chaise longue has a seat of 3 1/2 to 5 feet. But once the chair has a seat of more than 5 feet in length and has a footboard and headboard – you have a duchesse. The duchesse was another favorite. It could also be brisee (or broken) as in the second image above.

18th century canapé à châssis from les collections du musée des arts décoratifs

The most important piece of furniture perfected during the 18th century? Well, in my house that would have to be the sofa! During the end of the 17th century, a double-sized armchair was invented – it was called the canapé. The canapé was a little stiff but it quickly morphed into the first piece of furniture to feature upholstery on all sides. It’s amazing to realize that by 1760 – the end of the Rococo – every kind of seating that we know today had been invented and perfected. So when you stretch out on your sofa, think of the Rococo! ;)

books to read

  1. Madame de Pompadour: Mistress of France by Christine Pevitt Algrant – I evaluated 4 biographies of Madame de Pompadour for this post! I wanted to be sure that I recommended the absolute best! This was my favorite – intriguing narrative and well-researched look at the life of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, the future Madame de Pompadour.
  2. Wallpaper: A History of Style and Trend by Carolle Thibaut-Pomerantz – This huge beautiful book traces the history of wallpaper. Chinoiserie was all the rage during the Rococo period and was often incorporated into the decor via gorgeous hand-painted wallpapers. If you’ve been bitten by the wallpaper bug, this book will help put it all in context!
  3. The Age of Comfort: When Paris Discovered Casual and the Modern Home Began by Joan Dejean – This was one of my picks for french chairs. It’s so good I had to mention it again. If you want to delve into 18th century France, this is the book for you. (We didn’t even get into the invention of the flush toliet in this post! Even that was invented in the 18th century!)

Facts to Know:

  1. Chair Types:
    cabriolet = chair with a curved back
    reine = chair with a straight back
  2. When it was the Rococo in France, it was Palladian and Chippendale styles in England, Rococo in Italy and Carlos IV style in Spain.
  3. The words comfort and comfortable only began to take their modern meaning in the 18th century prior to that the word signified help or consolation. One of the first to use the word comfortable in a modern way? Thomas Jefferson who was a longtime Parisian resident and great appreciator of 18th century France.
  4. louis xv’s chocolate recipe
    When entertaining in a small intimate group (for a king, we’re talking about 20 or so!) – Rococo style – Louis XV frequently served coffee or chocolate in his private rooms
    Place one tablet of chocolate for each cup of water in a coffee pot and bring it slowly to the boil; when ready to serve, add one egg yolk for every four cups and stir with the baton over a slow fire, without boiling. It is better if made in the evening for the next day. Those who drink it every day save a leaven for the next day’s pot. Instead of an egg yolk, a whipped egg white can be used after removing the first froth; blend it with a little chocolate taken from the coffee pot, then put it in the pot and finish off as with a yolk.

    – from : “Les Soupers de la Cour ou l’Art de travailler toutes sortes d’aliments pour servir les meilleurs tables suivant les quatre saisons” by Menon, 1755 via The Chateau Versailles


image above, clockwise from top left: mirror $385, vintage boudoir rouge $15, neo-rococo style print $21, switchplate $20, chaise $1,199, porcelain seashell vase $540,  ruffle pillow $29.96, vintage pair wood candlesticks sconces $18.99, bed $1929, ribbons $8.95

image above, clockwise from top left: madeline weinrib rug $2500+, lace-strewn knob $10, ‘pearl’ flat $109.95, french dot single sheet $220 festooned plates $7.95, botanical rectangular tray $108, bedframe $249+, chalkboard decal $36, coiled felt pendant $398

image above, clockwise from top left: louis xv side chest $558, verre d’amitié glasses $40 (for 4), topsy-turvy wallpaper $148, 1768 edition of Pamela $681.98 (or the penguin classics edition $17.16), italian wall plaque $58, louis xv shell mirror $379, chandelier $378, pillow sham $29, oyster shell salt cellar $28, 1840s pinchbeck and green paste bracelet $275

Suggested For You


  • This was great. I’d love to see more posts about the history of design and decorating. Thanks!

  • So informative, I love this. This would be a great regular feature: covering different eras. Maybe you could include images of how to work it into modern decor as well?

    • hi elizabeth

      thanks for your comment- just wanted to let you know that “past and present” is a regular feature here at d*s – every other tuesday at 12pm. if you scroll to the bottom of the post you’ll see over 25 examples of how to work this look into modern decor ;)


  • Also– I love the reading list: what are some more general (intro/survey) books to read about the history of decorative arts?

    • Hi Erin,
      That’s actually a tough question. I haven’t found any fantastic comprehensive books to the decorative arts. One of my favorite more general books is Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybcynski. When I was in school we’d be assigned sections from a variety of books, we never read anything straight through. I spend a lot of time on selecting books to recommend for these posts – typically I look at 20-30 books before making my suggestions. If I find a great general book, I’ll be sure to post about it! :)

  • great post! i loved versailles when i went. it was so whimsical and over the top. definitely jealous you got to the private rooms!

    • Hi Mollie, I was totally surprised to love Versailles as much as I did! The private rooms were amazing. The only bummer is that I hardly took any photos! I think I thought I would find everything in a book somewhere – turns out I can’t find photos anywhere! I’ve been emailing everyone who went with me to try to get photos! :)

  • I love the generosity of the P&P posts – I love eye candy as much as the next person, but it’s so much more fulfilling to get the mix of history, ideas, art, life stories, genuine historical pieces and contemporary applications, not to mention carefully selected resources to turn to for more… … every second tuesday is a great day! thanks x

  • Lovely post- it’s nice to know someone cares as much about the little details as I do (even though my knowledge falls more with the costume). I adore that you included ‘Pamela’- this book launched a craze for a wide-brimmed hat that became known as a ‘pamela.’

  • rococo is very difficult to pull off in a house unless the entire houses style is french or very very traditional.
    Rococo furniture can also look great in uuber modern spaces as well…

    but if like most people you live in a track home, or a ranch style house, rococo style should be kept minimal and most if not all the fabrics on a rococo chair or sofa should be very neutral and a solid color, let the shape do the talking not the fabric.

    I have 2 rococo chairs, but my house is a modern ranch. They were only about 60 years old, so I didnt feel bad about redoing them. The wood was all gold leafed and the fabrics were highly ornate. Instead of painting, I silver leafed the wood and changed the fabric to a large silver and white stripe, It looks fantastic with my very modern white sofa.

  • Beautiful! Did you know that those marble floors can be imitated by painting on canvas and sealing with poly? Historical design meets today’s practicality.

  • What a wonderful post! Rococo is a design style that I never looked twice at as, well, a design style. Your lesson opened my eyes and literally made me look twice. I especially love that you pointed out what was going on elsewhere at the time. This is always the most interesting part of art history for me as well. Thanks so much!

  • Great post!
    Speaking of all things shells & rocks… if you are in New York, I have been DYING to know WHO did and/or HOW the walls at the tapas restaurant Pipa. It’s in ABC Carpet & Home om 19th St. and is pure fantasy! The walls especially are the best part. I need to know! HELP!!

  • Thanks for the post! I would love to see more posts about the history of furniture and design.

  • ‘A History of Interior Design’ by John Pile and
    ‘Furniture:Classical to Contemporary’ by Judith Miller are both good general reference materials.
    But I think you’re seeing MdP through Sevres rose colored plates. ;-) I think some of her creations, ie Sevres porcelain, the designs were thought to be (by the Noblese of the time) terribly ‘countrified’. Of course, later, with the greater influence of Chinese wares, everyone had to have them and the tiny florals became ‘refreshingly simple’.

  • Oh my goodness, this made me do a double-take! I have JUST returned from Berlin, where I visited the utterly stunning Schloss Charlottenburg – full to bursting with Rococo, and which inspired me to do a post entirely devoted to the Charlottenburg’s Rococo style…


    So, having written up my post and posted my pictures, I am settled with a cup of tea and catching up with my favourite blogs… and I come across this post all about Rococo. :)

    Thank you, this made me smile!

  • What’s the correct pronunciation of “rococo?” I’ve heard it a few different ways. Anyone know?

  • So this style was popular in Italy as well, were there any changes in design or did they copy France?

  • Amazing furniture ,looks like Buckingham palace. I make heron lamps that would go great with this decor.