It is rare to find furniture pre-16th Century anywhere other than in a museum. It seems that collectors have only been able to obtain pieces from the Tudor period (1485-1600) onwards and even these are relatively small in number.
Until the middle of the 17th Century, furniture was fairly simple, made of oak with peg joins. Some items were painted or inlaid, but the dcor, if any, was usually carving. The most common items found today are panelled oak chests, used for linen, some of which are hand-carved with architectural shapes or grotesque figures. If the carving is too geometrical and regular is possible that the whole piece is a fake or at least that the decoration has been "improved" or added more recently.
Later in the 17th Century, what we now know as the chest of drawers gradually evolved. It began with a carcass containing a couple of drawers mounted on a stand with turned legs and progressed to the item that we would recognise now with drawers all the way to the floor. Also at this time, the use of veneer began. Thin pieces of carved or interesting coloured wood were glued to the carcass of the piece, initially as decorative panels and ultimately over the entire item.
Chairs and settles too, started to change from basic, fairly square and plain designs, becoming more elaborate with carvings and can seats and backs being introduced. The very best pieces, destined for aristocratic houses would be lavishly upholstered. Backs became higher and seats lower.
Trade with the Far East began to have an influence on English furniture. Often, lacquered cabinets with two doors and an arrangement of drawers inside were imported from China and Japan and mounted on stands once they reached England. This was the birth of the process known as "Japanning", imitating the Oriental lacquers by using oil and spirit varnishes.
Towards the end of the 1600s, the influx of craftsmen from Europe when the French expelled the Huguenots and the ascension to the English throne of the Dutch Prince William of Orange brought about a radical change in the types of furniture available. One such, was the writing bureau, much as we know it today; an arrangement of small drawers and cubby-holes inside a cabinet with a hinged drop-down front becoming a flat surface for writing. Initially supported on turned legs, these evolved such that a further solid case became the support, which contained a cabinet or drawers and stood on small feet. Materials also changed, with walnut and rosewood, more decorative than oak, becoming popular.
Cabinets on stands proliferated all over Europe. In Italy, they were set with panels of marble and semi-precious stones; in the Low Countries, red tortoiseshell was popular. However, it was the court of Louis XIV of France, which instigated the introduction of really luxurious decoration such as floral marquetry in wood and a new and exotic type of marquetry made of ebony veneer, brass and tortoiseshell and sometimes mother-of-pearl or ivory. Andre-Charles Boulle is credited by some as having invented this technique, which bears his name. Others, however, insist that he was merely an expert executor of the art but not its inventor.