Above interior by Michelle Nussbaumer
There can be no smarter way to enlighten a home than to embrace the Rococo style of the Enlightenment. With designs as delicate as they are elaborate—combining curves, counter-curves, theatrical flourishes, and precious materials—Rococo furniture and decorative arts embody French spiritedness in the first part of the 18th century, as well as the winds of freedom that came along with it. Fun and frivolous in appearance yet conceived with utter seriousness by master designers and craftsmen, these pieces have withstood the test of time and taste, and feel as charmingly elegant today as they did centuries ago.
A reaction to Louis XIV’s ponderous Château de Versailles and its official Baroque art, Rococo presented a lighter, more intimate decorating style, better suited to the political, intellectual, and moneyed elites’ new Paris residences under Louis XV. As salons, or living rooms, became spaces for lavish entertaining and lofty conversations, decorators adorned them with furniture, friezes, sculptures, wall, and ceiling decorations in the Rococo style, in which elaborate detail, intricate patterns, and serpentine design work created a lighthearted, versatile atmosphere. Quickly adopted throughout France, the style spread to Germany and Austria by the 1730s and later reached Italy, where it was concentrated in Venice.
Rococo was largely about curves. Based on the fundamental shapes of the letters c and s, with delicate decorative motifs inspired by seashells, flowers, leaves, and other natural shapes, Rococo was exuberant, sensuous, and never rigid. Enhanced by delightful gilt-bronze, ivory, porcelain, and marble ornaments, the style’s warm, curvaceous appeal has kept strong, as these Sothebys’ Home pieces—some of them pure Rococo, others in the Rococo style—make abundantly clear.
Why we love it: With the clear c’s of its feet and its elaborate foliate ornamentation, this carved giltwood console d’appliqué displays many hallmarks of the Rococo style. Handcrafted in Italy during the 18th century, it features a solid marble top with a sinuous decorative edge that enhances its attractiveness.
Why we love it: Mirrors were an important feature of the Rococo style, as their reflectiveness enhanced the salons’ sense of space and lightness. In this late 18th-century giltwood example (a transitional piece between the style periods of Louis XV and Louis XVI), the highly ornate carvings of acanthus leaves, c scrolls, and trailing husk garlands hearken back to the height of Rococo.
Why we love them: Adorned with charmingly spirited cherubs standing at the ready to hold a candle, this pair of Italian 18th-century giltwood wall-pricket sconces combines the frivolity and sophistication of the Rococo style to fabulous effect.
Why we love it: If its visible pegged construction and iron hardware speak to this 18th-century Louis XV provincial bureau plat’s aversion to frivolity, its references to the Rococo style are crystal clear. With a shaped apron and curvaceous, ornamented cabriolet legs, this writing desk offers enough sophistication to balance out its essential austerity.
Why we love it: The diminutive size of this mid-18th-century German commode was no impediment to the craftsmen who devised its elaborate ornamentation with scrolling curves, sinuous molding, trompe-l’oeil geometric marquetry, floral decorations, and gilding. With three working silk jacquard-lined drawers, it offers rarefied storage for treasured belongings.