Briefly, the Aesthetic Movement emerges out of the design reform movement during the 1860s and 1870s, in which the chief impulse is "Art for Arts sake". As a movement, Aestheticism is seen as a reaction to the excesses of mid-century revivals. The aim is to reunite the beautiful and useful. Surface decoration becomes important, using motifs from nature. Natural forms -- simplified, stylized and flattened into patterns -- are combined, leading to the use of contrasting materials in marquetry and other flat surface decoration. While detail of surface decoration was intricate, color schemes are more subtle, so that the whole becomes a unified form when viewed from a distance. For the first time in history, some furniture designs tend to be rectilinear.
A fever develops for collecting artistic works, and home interiors becomes expressions of artistic taste, generating the term, "Household Art" and Art-Furniture.
The underlying principles of the movement emphasize "art in the production of furniture". A reaction to the highly elaborate products of mainstream Victorian taste, aestheticism stresses simple forms and uncluttered surfaces. Often, ornament is placed asymmetrically.
At the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, Americans -- exposed to art objects from a variety of nations and times -- are influenced by Japanese decoration, late 17th- and early 18th-century English domestic design, and blue and white Chinese porcelain. Where they can designers include examples from Greek, Persian, Moorish, Egyptian and other exotic styles and motifs. Elaborately, for those who can afford it, homes are designed and decorated through the collaborative efforts of designers, architects and craftsmen. Typical motifs include sunflowers, fan shapes, peacock feathers, and bamboo.
Source: Martha Crabill McClaugherty, "Household Art: Creating the Artistic Home, 1868-1893" Winterthur Portfolio 18, No. 1 Spring, 1983, pages 1-26.