In honor of Furniture Week—our celebration of sofas, side tables, and everything in between—we’re turning our gaze to the decorative arts and exploring the best museum furniture collections around the world.
The decorative arts focus on the design and manufacture of beautiful objects that are also functional. Museums like the Liang Yi Museum in Hong Kong and the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo have stunning furniture collections that show how decor and design have changed over the centuries in specific regions of the world.
Other museums—like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—feature a vast collection of furniture that spans continents and history.
The most impressive decorative arts museums transport you to a time and place, whether it’s through an entire reconstructed period room or a single hand-carved cabinet from the 1600s on display. Here’s a look at 15 of them.
Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments.
Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris
The French have a long history as arbiters of taste and fashion, so it’s no wonder that this Parisian museum puts on a show. A 35-million-euro restoration in 2006 revamped the exhibition spaces to better display the extravagant carpets, furniture, and elaborate wallpaper. Don’t miss the 10 reconstructed period rooms that show French life from the late 1400s to the early 20th century.
The Brooklyn Museum in New York City
On the fourth floor of the Brooklyn Museum visitors can gawk at 23 period rooms chronicling American life from the 17th to the 20th centuries. From a plantation-era South Carolina dining room to a study from the late 1920s, the rooms are a remarkable display of furniture and decor through the decades.
Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany
With an emphasis on how design relates to architecture, art, and everyday culture—and an iconic building designed by Frank Gehry—the Vitra Design Museum hosts two major temporary exhibitions each year. The furniture collection is extensive, boasting 6,000 objects ranging from 19th-century bentwood to sustainable contemporary pieces.
Also, don’t miss a new, minimalist Herzog & de Meuron-designed building that houses the museum’s modern furniture collection.
Liang Yi Museum in Hong Kong
Located on Hollywood Road in Hong Kong—a well known-destination for antique hunters—the Liang Yi Museum opened in 2014 with one of the world’s largest collections of Chinese antique furniture. Much of the furniture is made from the treasured wooden materials huanghuali and zitan, dating from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Victoria & Albert Museum in London
The V&A has been collecting furniture and woodwork for over 150 years and it shows. A diverse collection spans over 600 years and includes examples from East Asia, South Asia, and the Islamic Middle East along with more than 14,000 pieces from the the West. Don’t miss the Great Bed of Ware (circa 1590), the Eames Storage Unit from 1949, and quirky pieces like an 18th-century chair that was made specifically for Marie Antoinette.
Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago has an array of captivating exhibitions, but one of our favorites is the 400-work collection of African art. With an emphasis on the sculptural traditions of West and Central Africa, the collection includes masks, sculptures, beadwork, regalia, textiles, and furniture. The collection of 80 African ceramics is the largest of its kind in an American art museum.
The Knoll Museum in East Greenville, Pennsylvania
The Knoll Museum houses a collection of no-longer-produced Knoll chairs and offers a captivating look at the evolution of technology and design over the last 50 years, from simplistic rockers to boldly-styled office chairs. The Knoll Museum is open to the public by appointment only.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
As one of the best art museums in the world, the Met boasts a world-renowned collection of furniture. Don’t miss the early American colonial furniture and the extensive European collection that dates from the Renaissance to the late 19th-century.
Designmuseo Design Museum in Helsinki
With over 75,000 objects, 45,000 drawings, and 125,000 photographs, the Design Museum offers a plethora of art to get lost in. This is a temple to all things Finnish, and you can expect to find everything from minimalist chairs to modern pieces through the 20th century.
Wolfsonian in Miami
Located in the Art Deco District in Miami, the Wolfsonian decorative arts and furniture collection focuses on North American and European pieces from 1885-1945. You can expect an array of furniture, ceramics, and metal-ware showcasing the work of designers like Charles Rennie Mackintoch, Peter Behrens, and Alvar Aalto.
Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen
As Denmark’s largest museum of Danish and international design, the Designmuseum has a vast collection of decorative and applied arts. Some exhibitions rotate but the museum’s permanent showcase on 20th-century furniture and decor is first rate.
Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo
Recently reopened after it was damaged in a car bomb attack in 2014, the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo is home to one of the world’s most important collections of Islamic artifacts. You’ll find an impressive array of metalwork, carved wood, and stone artifacts that illustrate the material culture of Egypt from the 7th through the 19th centuries. Don’t miss the collection of enameled and gilded Mamluk mosque lamps.
Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh
Head to the Carnegie Museum of Art for what the museum calls the “Art of the Chair.” An extensive seating collection—which was recently renovated—celebrates the diversity and innovation of chair design from the late 17th century to the present. You’ll find everything from hand-carved wooden chairs to playful blow-up inflatable armchairs designed in 1967.
Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, Delaware
As one of the premier museums of American decorative arts, the Winterthur Museum features 175 rooms furnished with the antiques and objects of Henry Francis du Pont, a horticulturist who was a collector of early American furniture. The furniture collection contains more than 9,000 pieces spanning the mid-1600s to the 1870s.
The Imperial Furniture Collection in Vienna
This extensive museum in Vienna—with 165,000 pieces—originally housed the Habusburg furniture collection. Today it boasts furniture spanning three centuries and features special exhibitions devoted to architecture, design, and furniture through the 20th century.