The Queen Anne period derives its name from the prominent English Queen that ruled from 1702 to 1714. Until that time, furniture from the earlier Jacobean & Elizabethan periods tended to be dark, heavy and masuline with simple turned legs and functional pulls.
During Queen Anne's reign, furniture design began to change with the introduction of the graceful cabriole leg which bears her name. Pulls in turn, evolved from simple utilitarian designs into the curved, swan-like forms that became a part of-and accents for the furniture's overall design.
Thomas Chippendale, and English cabinetmaker practicing his art in the mid 1700's, refined the Queen Anne style still further. Influenced himself by the Gothic craze sweeping England as well as the Rococco style from France, he incorporated elements of both into the distinctive style named for him.
Among Chippendale furniture's distinguishing characteristics is the use of large decorative "plate" style hardware, an important element in the piece's overall design.
By the late 1700's architectural design began to change. As rooms became larger in size and lighter in color, so too did furniture design change to reflect these elements of style.
The most famous and influential cabinetmakers of the period were contemporaries George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton.
Their adaptation of the Neo-Classical style was reflected in a return to the square and rectangular forms and cleaner, straighter lines depicted in earlier furniture designs.
Backplate styles changed as well as the shaped solid backplate was replaced by two circular rosettes connected in between by a loop handle.
The predominate style early in the nineteenth century was known as Empire, in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte's victorys in war and reign in France. Furniture built during the Empire period tended to be dark and massive with thick lyre bases and featured rould wooden or lion head ring pulls.
During the later part of the Empire period advances in manufacturing technology ushered in the era of the Industrial Revolution. The introduction of steam-powered woodworking machinery allowed highly decorative furniture to be produced at cost-effective prices.
This allowed the "middle class" of society to purchase the fine furniture, a privilege until then reserved exclusively for the wealthy during the era of handmade products.
Named for the Queen Victoria, England's longest ruling Monarch (1837-1901), Victorian period furniture is generally characterized as being manufactured from darker woods such as walnut, mahogany, cherry, and rosewood.
Early Victorian's furniture replaced the rectangular forms and straight lines of earlier furniture designs and began to include rounded corners, oval and curves. Decorative inlays became unfashionable and surfaces were left plain and often given a glossy finish know as french polishing. Pulls varied from simple wooden knobs to highly decorative cast and stamped brass backplates and bail style.
The Victorian period encompassed a major portion of the nineteenth century and styles changed subtly during that time because of manufacturing advancements, economic variables and personal tastes. As an aid in classifying these differences within the period, Victorian furniture is further defined as early, middle and late century.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century Englishman Charles Eastlake spoke out against the overly ornate, cheaply assembled furniture of the era. In his opinion, highly decorative designs wasted wood and straight angular lines in furniture were inherently stronger than the curved styles in vogue at the time.
Eastlake's style, as interpreted by American craftsmen, featured less ornate turnings, moldings and appliques than their Victorian predecessors. Decoration was limited to simple spoon carvings and geometrically incised lines. Brass backplates took on a rectangular form and often included wood drops in several accentuating styles.
Arts and Crafts
Spawned in England in the 1880's, the Arts and Crafts movement was formed in reaction to the highly decorative, mass-produced furniture of the Victorian age. The attitude of the movement was summed up by C. F. A. Voysey in his book Reason as a Basis For Art "The desire for gaudy richness has produced the shams we find in the shops. There is a universal desire which-is the outcome of insincerity-to make things look better than they are."
Proponents of the Arts and Crafts style believed that furniture should be constructed from simple, durable materials while incorporating purity and quality of design. They preferred the use of indigneous hardwoods such as oak as opposed to the fancier imported exotics.
As a means of emphasizing its handmade construction, Arts and Crafts style furniture often features exposed joints. Even the copper plated hardware predominate on most pieces carries out the theme by having a hand-hammered appearance.
Major advancements in manufacturing technology coupled with a rapidly changing economic and social climate created a variety of styles in the Twentieth century. Better quality furniture continued to evolve from interpretations of earlier designs. With the introduction of electricity and women's assertions of independence, modern conveniences became part of everyday life and demand for sturdy, efficient and labor-saving types of furniture increased. As hardwood forests became depleted, cost efficient veneered furniture became prevelant, particulary in the post depression era.
All of these factors along with the influence of each previous era's dominant characteristics combined to create a vast array of distinctly Twentieth Century American Furniture.
"Antiques are some remnants of history which have casually escaped the shipwreck of time"-Francis Bacon
As a general means of classification, styles of American Furniture are usually named for the periods and people in history which influenced them. It should be noted however, that the change between these periods and styles was gradual, with the distinguishing characteristics of one style blending subtly into the next.