How to Determine the Style of American Antique Furniture
- May 20, 2015
- Posted by: lansend
- Category: Antiques
As many authorities consider antiques to be a work of art, a piece of furniture or a decorative piece being 100 years or older, it may be tricky trying to identify what era a piece of antique furniture comes from. Plus, there are styles of furniture from all corners of the globe. Let’s start with something simple: antique furniture designs in America. As an installment series, we’ll look at other styles over the world, but this time we’ll look at what makes Colonial Styles definitive.
William and Mary
This early style of American furniture dates back to the 1690s through the 1720s. William and Mary is said to be an early Baroque style of furniture. Its name comes from the king and queen of the same monikers who ruled England, Scotland and Ireland from 1689-1694.
This American style of the furniture has other cultural influences, as colonists came from many different countries. There are Flemish, Dutch, French and even Chinese influences seen in the furniture. Embellishments and ornamentation were features seen across the board in this style of furniture, regardless of influence.
Well-known characteristics of the William and Mary style include: dovetails, a technique that joined pieces of furniture, such as the sides of a drawer to its front, that had a resemblance to a dove’s tail; ornamentation like the Flemish scroll leg or a trumpet-styleleg, both fashioned from chisels or turned on lathes; and common woods used were walnut and maple, less frequently oak or lacquered finishes, depending on what cultural influence was incorporated into the style.
This popular furniture style is a direct continuation of the style that developed during Queen Anne’s reign of Great Britain from 1702-1714. The style was dominant in the U.S. colonies all the way until 1750, long after the queen’s death. As people began to evolve in the colonies, so did furniture. Many of the design aspects from the William and Mary style carried over to the Queen Anne style in the colonies.
A transitional style, Queen Anne marked the beginning of elegance incorporated into the function of furniture. Decorative details, like dramatic curves, are typical in the Queen Anne design, and are similar to the William and Mary designs. However, there is little ornamentation in Queen Anne style versus the William and Mary style.
Notable design features are: the cabriole leg, a curved leg of furniture where the top curves outward with the bottom making a curve inward and has an ornamental foot; shell carvings adorned as embellishments on many wood pieces; pad feet were a characteristic used in designs of American origin; and the common woods used for Queen Anne furniture were walnut, maple and cherry.
This style received its name from the London-based cabinet maker, Thomas Chippendale, and gained popularity in the U.S. from 1750-1780. Some key aspects of Chippendale are similar to those of Queen Anne, but as time went on, the tastes of U.S. colonists differed from those of people in England, and the designs varied.
As the U.S. variation of this style had similar aspects to the Queen Anne, it is worth noting its pieces were similarly designed with elegance and refinement. These were important factors for people wishing to purchase this style. Some furniture makers, though, were influenced by the Rococo style when crafting Chippendale furniture.
Prominent features seen in the Chippendale design are: cabriole legs, (many American designers started to integrate claw-ball feet into Chippendale furniture, which is a design made to resemble a bird’s claws gripping a ball); yoke-shaped backs on chairs; shell carvings similar to Queen Anne; and the wood used in the furniture was primarily mahogany with less-expensive furniture using walnut, cherry or maple.
The Colonial Period is solely the beginning of the styles and variations of antique furniture fashioned in the U.S. As time went on, there wouldn’t be as strong of an influence from Great Britain, but rather, other cultures. Key characteristics are crucial to identifying a style. Stick with WelPak, and identifying any furniture over 100 years old won’t be tricky anymore.