The Federal Period of Antique Furniture in the U.S.
- June 12, 2015
- Posted by: lansend
- Category: Antiques
A few months ago we informed you of how to determine different types of American antique furniture from the Colonial Style. While different periods and styles can often overlap, the focus this time will be the Federal period and the styles during that period. After reading this, it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to recognize what era antique furniture comes from.
This is another style of furniture that acquired its name from its designer. Thomas Sheraton was a London furniture designer. Though Sheraton trained as a cabinetmaker, he also wrote furniture guides, like his book The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book, published 1791-1794 (these attributes show Thomas Sheraton has a few characteristics in common with the creator of our next style of furniture). Sheraton style furniture was popular in the States during the period of about 1790 to 1820.
A simple style of furniture, Thomas Sheraton liked straight edges in his furniture design. Straight or tapered legs were commonly seen on pieces of his furniture. To complement the legs, the feet on these pieces of furniture were either a spade foot, a cylindrical foot or a tapered arrow foot. Other common design features used in the Sheraton style include: typically more than one type of wood since the style was about using contrasting veneers and inlays; satinwood, mahogany, beech, tulipwood and birch were popular types of wood; embellishments of low-relief carvings or painted designs; marquetry that had contrasting woods colors in the design; and motifs of lyres, ribbons, fans, feathers, urns and flowers.
This style of furniture gained its named from cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite. The cabinetmaker’s elegant style of furniture became popular around 1780 through 1810. Many historians agree that Hepplewhite and Sheraton were some of the most prominent furniture makers of their time, and some of the Hepplewhite furniture design traits even overlap with Sheraton’s design traits. In 1788, Hepplewhite’s book, The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide was published after his death. The book contains about 300 designs of Hepplewhite furniture and cabinets.
Though Hepplewhite shares similar characteristics with Sheraton furniture, Hepplewhite style tends to be more ornate with carvings and curvilinear shapes. This furniture style differs from the earlier Colonial styles because the pieces have straight legs rather than the popular cabriole legs noticeable in the Queen Anne style. Continuing with a complementary style to the legs, feet of these pieces of furniture are either a spade foot or a tapered arrow. Some pieces even had bracket feet.
Within the Hepplewhite style there are other key design features. These include: contrasting veneers and inlay, of which a mahogany base with sycamore veneers were a popular choice; a delicate appearance compared to Queen Anne style furniture; embellishments of small carvings; motifs of ribbons, trees, urns and feathers; and chair backs shaped like ovals or shields. These shield-back chairs are the most well-known style traits from the Hepplewhite style.
During the few hundred years since it was established as a country, the U.S. has seen numerous designs and styles of furniture. But during the early days of the country, Great Britain had a large influence on almost everything, including the furniture. But with passing years, different cultures and styles would reign supreme. Learning about different antique furniture styles and how to identify them won’t be as challenging with the handy guides from the WelPak blog.