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Common Furniture Styles Throughout American History

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It’s fascinating to see periods of history reflected in the artwork, fashion, and furniture of the time.  As passionate proponents of antique restoration, at Jax Furniture, we’re very interested in design features and techniques of furniture making throughout American history.  Here’s a brief overview of the most popular furniture styles in America:

  • William & Mary (Late 1600s – mid 1700s) – This style is named for William, the King of England at this time. When colonists ventured to America, they brought their English furniture styles and traditions, practical and sturdy, with them.  Crisp lines, exaggerated moldings, and the bold grains of maple or walnut veneer earmark the period.
  • Queen Anne (Mid to late 1700s) – Furniture styles became more delicate than those of the William & Mary time. The name of the style is a nod to the new Queen of England, though furniture designers had begun developing their own style here in the states.  Poplar, cherry, and maple were the most popular woods used in furniture making, and the “japanning” technique (combining ashes with varnish before application) became popular.
  • Chippendale (Later 1700s) – Renown cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale was deeply influenced by ancient cultures, resulting in ornate scrolls and ribbons, Gothic arches, and columns appearing in furniture design. He wrote a highly influential book, and these design elements were emulated by his followers everywhere, though regional design elements and were incorporated.
  • Shaker (Late 1700s to mid 1800s) – Known for clean lines and no-fuss aesthetic, this style is a reflection on the belief system of the Shaker people, who lived by a strict set of moral beliefs that dictated a simplistic approach to life.
  • American Empire, also known as Classical (Early 1800s) – The Empire style emerged with heavy emphasis on Greece, Egypt, Rome, and other ancient cultures. Furniture design incorporated more ornamentation, inlays, and decorative mountings.  Dark woods were used predominantly during this time, and wood was even painted black.  American motifs, such as eagles, began to appear in design.
  • Victorian (Mid to late 1800s) – The highly ornamented styles of the Empire period were made more elaborate during the Victorian period, just as was done in fashion and other elements of culture, in large part to reflect Queen Victoria’s love of ornamental styles.
  • Gothic Revival (Mid 1800s) – During the Gothic period, a sub-category of the Victorian era, furniture design emulated architectural design and included, for example, turrets and pointed arches, with much carved detailing. Rosewood, mahogany, walnut, and oak were the favored woods of the time.
  • Rococo Revival (Mid 1800s) – Also part of the Victoria period, the Rococo Revival period was high on ornamentation, including scalloped and scrolling designs, motifs of roses, and the inclusion of marble and cast-iron elements.
  • Elizabethan (Late 1800s to Early 1900s) – Advancements in technology enabled machinery to be used more and more. Influenced by the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the designs of this period are considered highly feminine, typically with carved or painted flowers and the incorporation of needlework upholstery.
  • Louis XVI (Mid 1800s to Early 1900s) – Running in a similar timeline to the Elizabethan period, this period featured darker woods, such as ebony and rosewood, and incorporated motifs such as medallions, wreaths, and urns, to a similar degree of the Victorian design era.
  • Arts & Crafts (1880-1910) – The Arts & Crafts trend was as strong in furniture design as it was in architectural design, merging form and function, and inviting the natural world inside. Oak was the wood primarily used, and natural materials such as copper and silver were used in inlays.
  • Art Nouveau (1880-1910) – Though this period and its sweeping lines were exceedingly popular abroad, there was considerably less interest among American designers, due in part to the fact that the curvilinear forms did not lend well to mass production.
  • Art Deco (1925-1940s) – The same design elements that comprised the architecture and fashion in this era were represented in furniture design as well: expensive materials, including stained glass, chrome, steel, and lacquered wood, along with crisp straight lines and a preference for symmetry.
  • Mid-Century Modern (1933-1965) – This movement focused on a natural form but with a modernist twist. Minimalist lines, sleek angles, and a combination of natural wood, often teak and walnut, are hallmarks of this era in furniture design.
  • Minimalist (1960s to modern day) – Like anything minimal, Minimalist furniture design is stripped down to its fundamental essence. New materials, including aluminum, plastic, and vinyl were introduced during this period.  More recently, of course, the tendency toward “green” materials and responsible source has emerged, along with an increased emphasis on restoring antique wood furniture.

From the trendy to the timeless, and from the Rococo to the Minimalist, a highly rated professional furniture restoration shop can repair, clean, and care for your beautiful furniture.  Jax Furniture is the best antique restoration, refinishing, and reupholstery service, and the craftsmen to trust with your headboard, chest, armoire, sofa, and dining room set.  Our customers in Atlantic Beach, Ponte Vedra, Mandarin, and Riverside trust us with their furniture, and we’d love the opportunity to provide the same service for you too.