Golden Age craftsmen remembered


During the Golden Age of furniture making arose several craftsmen that have been remembered as the best of that era.

Chippendale. Thomas Chippendale issued the first furniture catalog. Admirers of fine furniture were able to browse through this first edition provided they bought furniture for $16, a considerable amount of cash in 1738.

The outstanding cabinet makers and furniture craftsmen of the time with Chippendale were Hepplewhite, Sheraton (the originator of the twin bed and roll top desks) and the Adams Brothers.

From France. While these gentlemen busied themselves providing the market with furniture, extremely feminine refinements were made to many products manufactured in France.

Gentle elegance and outstanding curves characterized every piece of furniture. Such extravagance sooner or later usually wanes.

During the influence of Marie Antoinette (1774-93) several of the elaborate curvatures were straightened.

With Napoleon’s order, the feminine style was ended and an extravagant, militaristic style furniture called the Empire style prevailed.

In America. From this diversified background American furniture designers and makers found it difficult to find any one design trend for architecture or furniture patterns.

Their approach became to adopt characteristics of each style.

After 1775, the style used in the new country for household furnishings was known as Colonial.

The diverse assortment of native woods allowed a wide scope of cabinet makers’ originality. Well known craftsmen such as John Elliott, John Goddard, Samuel McIntire were renown for decorative carvings.

Savery and Phyfe. Two other important cabinet makers were William Savery and Duncan Phyfe.

Savery was mainly known for the development of the American Empire style, influenced by Sheraton.

Phyfe was well known for his choice of wood species, straight grained, dark reddish Cuban mahogany. From this marvelous wood Phyfe carved with a style akin to sculpture.

American Empire. The American Empire era was from around 1795 through 1830. The woods employed were mahogany, walnut, rosewood, curly maple or another local wood species.

Low grade wood was gilded. Inlay or marquetry was used on some door panels and drawer fronts. Veneer was mahogany over pine.

Feet were bear’s and lion’s claws. Other motifs illustrated wings, sphinx heads, acanthus, pineapple, melons, cornucopia with various fruits and flowers, spirals, reeding and honeysuckle.

Later styles. Later American eras in furniture patterns and styles have been Gothic in the 1800s. Queen Anne, Italian Renaissance, Mission (sometimes called Spanish).

Many readers will remember the heavy oak and square forms and the Neoclassic.

This last style influenced many of the Greek style edifices that make up the buildings in Washington, D.C., as well as many other public buildings nationwide.

During the 1900s a seemingly extravagant arrangement of “periods” along with modern (quite classic) and modernistic appeared.

Thank goodness for the reconstruction of Williamsburg that indicates a sensible trend back to a style of architecture aligned to our landscape and a historic preference for Colonial interiors.


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