History of Styles- Empire


A period of time defined by the declared emperor Napoleon and his regime over France. Following the French Revolution there was political conflict and disorder and after the abolishment of the monarchy there was space for new authority – Napoleon Bonaparte seized this opportunity to rise through the ranks. During what was known as the Consular period in 1799 the directory was deposed and substituted with three Consuls, including napoleon. He was named First Consul and then First Consul for Life on 1802. Napoleon eventually was crowned emperor in 1804.

Napoleon achieved this accumulative power through his political and military accomplishments including revolutionary military organisation and training that assisted in France dominating European global affairs.

Napoleon built a prevailing empire that ruled over most of Europe and won a succession of ‘Napoleonic’ wars during this time. He centralised and strengthened the French government after the disastrous outcome after the French Revolution, as well as founding educational structures and reinstating Roman Catholics as the countries core religion. Nevertheless, ensuing ruinous military defeats including a failed invasion of Russia, French funds were weak and the country was again in a dire situation.

In 1814 Napoleon went into exile on the island of Elba, and then returned to power in 1815. This resulted in many European countries declaring war against France and Napoleon’s second reign as emperor collapsed after the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Napoleon was then exiled to Saint Helena where he stayed until his death in 1821.



Thought of as the initial ‘interior designers’ Percier and Fontaine exclusively worked for Napoleon using their designs to legitimise and celebrate the emperor and his achievements. In opposition to designers that came before, Percier and Fontaine would control all elements of a project including the architecture, interior and décor accessories, making sure there was congruence and harmony between them.

Fontaine and Percier studied classical architecture at Academe de Beaux Arts before moving to Rome where they would be stirred and influenced by classical themes. Their signature style became representative of Empire style – a application on blending extravagance with restriction and military heroism.

Napoleon commissioned Percier and Fontaine to redesign and refurbish many buildings including Fontainebleau, Chateau de Malmaison, Hotel des Invalides and most famously build the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris. This was motivated by the Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome and themes of bravery, command and rigor would continually appear within their designs.


Fontainebleau was designed to highlight Pompeiian red walls and black and gold furniture which were Napoleon’s favourite colours. Chateau de Malmaison was a home for Napoleon’s wife Josephine, and Percier and Fontaine were brought on to design a space that was dedicated to Napoleon’s status, his character and heroic role as emperor.

A constant reminder to Josephine the power and prominence her husband possessed. Each room had touch of this egotism, for example the bedroom with fabric loosely adorning the bed like a tent, a reminder of Napoleon’s time at war and the tent he would have stayed in during these battles. Truly propagandistic and an idealisation of Napoleon, even with gold ‘N’ letters featuring throughout interiors and motifs that included laurel wreaths, rosettes, eagles and bees which were Napoleon’s chosen symbol.


Percier and Fontaine designed every detail of an interior including the furniture, such as the state beds, side tables, wall lights, furnishing hardware and sculptures. Their influential and admired designs were published and became known worldwide, furthering significance and popularity in Empire style.

They created military stimulated interiors with references to Greek, Roman and Egyptian themes and brought these classical references into a modern expression. Victorious schemes revolved around classical references meaning there was formality and an imposing character to each space reflective of Napoleon’s supremacy and prestige.



Empire style architecture was radical and innovative as straightforward timber frames began to be used for box shaped constructions. The exteriors demonstrated similar themes to Neoclassical with central domes, pediment facades, use of marble and carved symbols inspired from Greek and Roman empires.

Furnishings, however, were far more logical, rectilinear and strict then previous styles, with classical ornamentation, high levels of craftmanship with the use of veneer and ormolu. Mahogany continued to be a widespread choice of wood and was utilised with gilded bronze and gold embellishments.

Napoleon exerted his control in many ways not just over politics, such as commanding prerequisites and guidelines over craftsman. Another way of wielding his power and status, whilst insuring designs paid tribute to him, his role as emperor and his successes at war.