People have been using natural objects, such as tree stumps, rocks and moss, as furniture since the beginning of human civilisation. Archaeological research shows that from around 30,000 years ago, people began constructing and carving their own furniture, using wood, stone, and animal bones. Early furniture from this period is known from artwork such as a Venus figurine found in Russia, depicting the goddess on a throne. The first surviving extant furniture is in the homes of Skara Brae in Scotland, and includes cupboards, dressers and beds all constructed from stone. Complex construction techniques such as joinery began in the early dynastic period of ancient Egypt. This era saw constructed wooden pieces, including stools and tables, sometimes decorated with valuable metals or ivory. The evolution of furniture design continued in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, with thrones being commonplace as well as the klinai, multipurpose couches used for relaxing, eating, and sleeping. The furniture of the Middle Ages was usually heavy, oak, and ornamented. Furniture design expanded during the Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. The seventeenth century, in both Southern and Northern Europe, was characterized by opulent, often gilded Baroque designs. The nineteenth century is usually defined by revival styles. The first three-quarters of the twentieth century are often seen as the march towards Modernism. One unique outgrowth of post-modern furniture design is a return to natural shapes and textures.
The English word furniture is derived from the French word fourniture, the noun form of fournir, which means to supply or provide. Thus fourniture in French means supplies or provisions. The English usage, referring specifically to household objects, is specific to that language; French and other Romance languages as well as German use variants of the word meubles, which derives from Latin mobilia, meaning "moveable goods".
The practice of using natural objects as rudimentary pieces of furniture likely dates to the beginning of human civilisation. Early humans are likely to have used tree stumps as seats, rocks as rudimentary tables, and mossy areas for sleeping. During the late palaeolithic or early neolithic period, from around 30,000 years ago, people began constructing and carving their own furniture, using wood, stone and animal bones. The earliest evidence for the existence of constructed furniture is a Venus figurine found at the Gagarino site in Russia, which depicts the goddess in a sitting position, on a throne. A similar statue of a Mother Goddess was found in Catal Huyuk in Turkey, dating to between 6000 and 5500 BC. The inclusion of such a seat in the figurines implies that these were already common artefacts of that age.
A range of unique stone furniture has been excavated in Skara Brae, a Neolithic village in Orkney, Scotland. The site dates from 3100–2500 BC and due to a shortage of wood in Orkney, the people of Skara Brae were forced to build with stone, a readily available material that could be worked easily and turned into items for use within the household. Each house shows a high degree of sophistication and was equipped with an extensive assortment of stone furniture, ranging from cupboards, dressers and beds to shelves, stone seats, and limpet tanks. The stone dresser was regarded as the most important as it symbolically faces the entrance in each house and is therefore the first item seen when entering, perhaps displaying symbolic objects, including decorative artwork such as several Neolithic Carved Stone Balls also found at the site.
Ancient furniture has been excavated from the 8th-century BC Phrygian tumulus, the Midas Mound, in Gordion, Turkey. Pieces found here include tables and inlaid serving stands. There are also surviving works from the 9th-8th-century BC Assyrian palace of Nimrud. The earliest surviving carpet, the Pazyryk Carpet was discovered in a frozen tomb in Siberia and has been dated between the 6th and 3rd century BC.