There have been many types of furniture styles over the years. When a style would make it’s entrance into the market it was almost immediately reproduced. There are many fake antiques out there and your best line of defense against them is to know the product you are buying and to do your research or to ask someone that does, to help you. In this article I have explained the different styles of furniture from 1700s – present.
I would first like to explain some terminology.
- Period The term used to denote that a piece was made during the original time frame of the design.
- Style The term used to denote that a piece is in the Fashion or Nature of an earlier time, but made at a later date
- Marriage Two pieces that never started out together. This is when someone combines two pieces together. I.e. a clock and a pastel. A hall table and chest of drawers to make a highboy.
The Pilgrim was from 1620-1700. This style was influenced by the Renaissance having round shapes, turned balusters, spindles, bun feet, and carved rectangular panels. This was a simplified version of English Stuart pieces. The main wood used for this style was Oak.
William and Mary were from 1690-1720. This style was influenced by the Dutch. This time period lead to roll ball syndrome with fat wooden balls on everything they could put them on. This was when gate leg tables, the first high chest, slant top, and upholstered easy chairs where introduced. The William and Mary style used burled veneers (fancy grained wood like burled walnut). They also had tear drop pulls Spanish feet, and were mainly made of walnut.
Queen Anne from 1720-1750. This style brought abrupt changes in the furniture world. It was simple with grace, less bulky and blocky, curved started to appear, pad feet and the famous cabriole leg was introduced. Secret drawers where introduced the highboys had domed bonnets. The hardware used was larger bail pulls with escutcheons. Woods for this period were walnut, cherry and maple.
Chippendale was from1750-1780. This is one of the most reproduced styles. It was influenced by Chinese and Gothic and had the look of Georgian. In this era of furniture proportions changed also the names where no longer monarch names (I.e. Queen Anne, Henry, and so on) This style had cabriole, straight, or square legs. Ball and claw feet and stretchers omitted. Large brass hardware was used. The main wood used was walnut. A great book for this style is Thomas Chippendale the Gentleman and Cabinet makerâ€™s Directory.
Federal was from 1780-1820. This style incorporates Hepplewhite, Sheraton, and early American Classical (Empire). The Federal style induced a new style called Neo-classicism. This style had fluted, tapered legs, festoons, caryatid supports, swags, excellent inlay and banding. Another style of federal was the Baltimore style. Main wood used was Mahogany.
Hepplewhite was from 1785 1800. This style was inspired by James and Robert Adam. This style had shields, oval, heart, and wheel shaped backs. Classical decorations, tapered legs, and brass oval shaped bail type pulls. In this style the backs of chairs do not touch the seats. Main woods used where Mahogany and satin woods with other fine woods for inlays.
Sheraton was from 1800-1820. This style was inspired by Thomas Sheraton. This style had classical lines, graceful, delicate, simple design. Straight lines where used (you started to lose the curves that where introduced in the Queen Anne style). Legs where reeded and round, stretchers where used and lyre-vase shaped backs. They had an in-laid and light appearance. This was French influenced. Main wood used was Mahogany.
American Classical Empire was from 1815-1840. This was influenced by French Empire, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian design. It was made for looks most of it was not the comfortable. It had hard backs and seats. They used black stained wood with gold ormolu mountings and trims. Joints where concealed by pieces of ormolu. The main types of woods used where Mahogany and veneer.
Duncan Phyfe was from 1792 1847. This was influenced by cabinet makers in New York Phyfe and Lannuier. There were several styles used Sheraton, Empire, English Regency. Lyre-shaped pedestals where introduced. This era was highly stylized and sophisticated. Woods used where Mahogany veneers with rich colors.
Victorian was from 1840-1900. There where many different Influences from Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Greco-Egyptian Revival. This era had lots going on carvings, floral motif, scrolls, and curves. This is also when mass production was starting to be used. Woods mainly used walnut woods and rosewood.
After the Victorian era Americans became fascinated with old styles in a new light. Designers began to recreate old designs with new names American Pilgrim, Colonial Style. Mass productions with few exceptions.
Nineteenth-Century American Furniture Styles
- Shaker 1790-1900
- Painted Furniture
- Grand Rapids
- Iron Furniture
- Horn and Antler
- Rustic & Adirondack
- Colonial Revival
- Art Nouveau
- Art Deco
- Modern (1960)
Arts and Crafts were from 1880 – 1920. This was not an artistic style but an attitude. This was era was inspired by medieval. The craftsmanship of arts and crafts style was clean and simple designs. There was a reduction of excessive decoration. This style had exposed joinery, adaptation of rustic, utilitarian design. This was working furniture with decorative arts. Based on ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris (English makers) American makers of note Stickley, Frank Lloyd Wright, Roycrofter, Limbert. This era of furniture incorporated an entire fashion event and is still popular and in current production. This is an era that I would advise on researching fully before making any buys. This is one of the most reproduced styles of furniture. Know the new for the old.
Art Deco Jazz Modern was from 1914 – 1942. This is an era in furniture that you always know it as soon as you see it. It has the look of Louis XVI and of the non-European countries. Having angular abstract patterns the skyscraper motif. These trends can also be seen in other places like the Chrysler Building, Empire State building, Radio City Music Hall. In this era it is also when King Tut was discovered (1924).
Modern 1950 – Current this era we started to use other types of material in furniture. Metal, leather, and plastic was being introduced; the clean lines and Danish modern were getting popular. Mass-production and molded furniture had a strong up rising. The influence was futurism.
Bentwood is comfortable, handmade, and from natural wood usually from the local area. This type of furniture is mainly used in country style homes.
Wicker Furniture American was from 1855 – Current. This furniture was introduced in the Victorian age and was well suited to them. They had more leisure time the start of the middle class and they loved there stuff.
Here is some information that might be useful when buying furniture.
- Patina soft, smoky finish, years of age and good care.
- Painted surfaces original paint more valuable.
- Woods exposed to light will appear darker check for consistency of wood tones.
- New paint under black light will fluoresce bright purple
Hints on Wood
- Hand-plane marks not USUALLY found on furniture made after 1850
- Mill saw marks are straight and parallel, at least ¼ apart and usually perpendicular to the wood grain
- Pit saw might be at a slight angle
- Both saw marks date before 1840
- Nails look for hand-forged nails 17th and 18th century
- Machine cut early 19th century
- Modern gimlet nails first made 1880
Always remember if you are not sure about something then feel free to ask a specialist in that field. There are many appraisers like myself that are out there to help.