American Made Furniture from the 1700s-1800s
In our last blog post, we took a look into the history of American made furniture starting with the 1600s and going till the 1700s. The predominant styles then were the Seventeenth Century style and the William and Mary style. So what were the main styles from the 1700s to the 1800s? Queen Anne and Chippendale were the two big styles in this era.
During the second quarter of the eighteenth century, the bold turnings, attenuated proportions, and dynamic surfaces of the Early Baroque, or William and Mary, style were subdued in favor of gracefully curved outlines, classical proportions, and restrained surface ornamentation. This style came to be known as Queen Anne. In the early 18th century, Boston was the reigning colonial city and the first to start using the Queen Anne style by making chairs with a “crooked” or S-curved back that conformed to the shape of the sitter’s spine. The S-curve was borrowed from Asian designs and reflected a trend towards comfort in furniture, a far departure from the stiff, straight chair backs of the era before.
Thousands of these chairs were made and then exported to the other colonies. In Philadelphia, craftsmen took the design a step further by developing distinctive seating forms with more elaborately curved lines. Revealing the Late Baroque emphasis on negative space, the solid splat and the flanking stiles were carefully designed so as to produce a gracefully curved void between them.
Case furniture such as dressers, chests and dressing tables became more architectural as time went on with proportions and ornamental designs being derived from their Renaissance forerunners. Boston furniture makers were incorporating cabriole legs and broken-scroll pediments into high chests of drawers by 1730 while in Rhode Island cabinetmakers integrated distinctive scrolls and scalloped shells into the skirts of high chests and dressing tables. One exception to this ornamentation was “japanning”, a technique developed to imitate Asian lacquer work. Also used was “chinoiserie”, which was the painting of fantastical scenes on furniture.
By now colonies were trading amongst themselves, enabling the spread of different styles and materials. The most popular wood used during the Queen Anne period was black walnut while the most used wood during the Chippendale period was walnut stained to resemble Caribbean mahogany. The Chippendale period was also known as the Rococo period due to the publication of Thomas Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director, a book that reflected the growing influence of the French Rococo style, which found expression in America in overlays of playful, naturalistic carving.
Chairs in the Chippendale style became more rectilinear, with square seat frames, straight stiles, and outward-flaring “ears” at the top corners. Claw-and-ball feet with sharply articulated talons replaced the smooth contours of pad and slipper feet. Back splats, formerly solid and unornamented, came to be pierced and intricately carved with foliage and interlaced patterns. In case furniture, the Chippendale style was just an extension of the Queen Anne style such as a high chest of drawers being updated with carved Rococo ornamentation.
Now was also the time when leisure activities were finally a part of life. The result was cabinetmakers produced specialized furniture forms such as tables for playing cards and taking tea. These pieces increasingly took on bold three-dimensional shapes and often rested on leaf-carved cabriole legs ending in claw feet.
The transition from Queen Anne to Chippendale in the colonies wasn’t fast or universal. Outside any major cities, any changes were small and at times hardly noticeable. By the 1780s however, a new style was starting to emerge and that’s what we’ll visit in our next blog. So stay tuned to learn more about the history of American made furniture!
By the way, although most manufacturing of wood furniture has gone overseas, Suburban Furniture displays and stocks many sets from 100% American made Vaughan Bassett Furniture. Click here to learn more about this almost 100 year old company. Most of Suburban Furniture’s upholstery is assembled here in US factories.