Resource Library

Furniture Woods:

  • Mahogany: A type of tropical hardwood. The origin of the name is uncertain, but it could be a corruption of 'm'oganwo', the name used by the Yoruba and Ibo people of West Africa to described trees of the genus Khaya. Mahogany has a generally straight grain and is usually free from voids and pockets. It has a reddish-brown color, which darkens over time, and displays a reddish sheen when polished. It has excellent workability, and is very durable. These properties make it favorable wood for crafting furniture.

  • Birds-Eye Maple: Pale wood in which the grain forms rings around small dark knots. Popular for veneers..

  • Birch: Close-grained pale hardwood often with a satin-like sheen. Ripple figuring may occur making it highly valuable for veneers..

  • Cherry: A strong, fine-grained hardwood with a pink undertones, often played up with a medium or dark finish to enhance its mahogany-red tones. Its rich coloring darkens with age and exposure to light. Cherry resists warping and is easy to carve and polish. Often used for 18th-century and formal, traditional-style furniture, cherry is often considered a luxury wood. Fine-grained hardwoods, such as maple and alder, are common substitutes for cherry..

  • Oak: A very popular wood for furniture-making. Oak is / was readily available and resistant to rot and insects. Oak also has a appealing grain markings, and is a very workable wood with nice coloring..

  • Pine: Pine grows in many varieties in various parts of the world. Pine’s characteristics provide warmth and individuality. Usually light-yellow in color, the wood has a broadly spaced striation pattern. Excellent for staining..

  • Rosewood: This is a dark-red or brown hardwood, derived from tropical trees. Heavy, hard, and dense, rosewood is noted for its stability and excellent decay resistance..

  • Walnut: Prized for high-end cabinetry and furniture, walnut provides strength, hardness, and durability without excessive weight. It has excellent woodworking qualities and takes finishes well. Walnut is light to dark chocolate-brown in color, with a straight grain in the trunk..

Furniture Styles:

  • Art Nouveau: The rise of art nouveau furniture dates its origin from 1878, when a body of enthusiastic architects in Vienna, led by the Wagner, produced a style of design arising from the use of natural floral forms and an opposition to straight lines. The underlying principles of art nouveau furniture were based upon nature forms, and eventually introduced designs which suggested the Gothic as well as Japanese curved and sinuous tree trunks and idealized, elongated and exaggerated vines, and long beautiful curves and series of perplexing and confusing spirals and corkscrew terminals. Art nouveau style furniture came to most attention at the Paris Exposition in 1900. Motifs are the root of the tree, trunk, branches, leaves and vines twisted into all sorts of shapes.

  • Biedermeier: The Biedermeier period lasted from the fall of Napoleon in 1815 until the Revolution of 1848. During the Biedermeier period, the continent of Europe saw a great awakening in its desire to infuse interior design with a new elegant simplicity. Delicate furniture, exotic textiles, an influence from Napoleon’s campaign, and masterful works of silver and porcelain added to the overall Biedermeier interior environment. It is within these interiors that Biedermeier design reveals its origins. The pieces are generally designed on a small scale with graceful and elegant forms. Devoid of unnecessary embellishment Biedermeier draws your attention to the beautiful wood veneers that comprise the surface areas. Early pieces were traditionally crafted from dark mahogany woods with a tendency towards Empire styling. In later years, Biedermeier furniture was generally fashioned from lighter woods such as birch, grained ash, pear and cherry, and exhibited a clearly more whimsical styling.

  • American Empire: Neoclassical style current in America from about 1810 to the 1830s. Based on elements from French Empire and British Regency styles. American Empire was characterized by bold furniture with rounded corners and other curvilinear components with an emphasis on expanses of figured veneer, most notable mahogany. Reeding, paw feet, and the Water Leaf were popular motifs, as well as caryatids, sphinxes and chimeras, which were Egyptian influences. Duncan Phyfe is considered a notable American furniture maker in this style.

  • Federal Period: Style dating from 1780s to 1830s in the United States. Characterized by Neoclassicism embraced after the American Revolution, which favored more austerity and restraint than previous styles. The style produced light, delicate pieces, geometrical in line and ornamented with inlays as opposed to carving. Most American Federal period furniture represented an amalgam of elements from the work of both Hepplewhite and Sheraton.

  • Hepplewhite: Named after London designer and cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite, whose The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterers Guide was published posthumously in 1788, Hepplewhite furniture dates from about 1780-1810. It is a neoclassic style and falls within the Federal period in the U.S. Hepplewhite style tends to be more ornate, with substantial carving and curvilinear shapes. Considered "city furniture," Hepplewhite was especially popular in American states along the Eastern Seaboard, from New England to the Carolinas. In contrast to the popular cabriole legs of earlier styles, such as Queen Anne, Hepplewhite pieces usually have straight legs. These can be square or tapered, and often have reeded or fluted edges, in imitation of Classical columns. Some chairs and sofas have H-stretchers, reinforcing pieces of wood that connect the legs to form the shape of an H. Because Hepplewhite furniture is characterized by contrasting veneers and inlays, pieces often contain more than one type of wood. For the base, mahogany was the wood of choice, but satinwood and maple were also popular. Other woods include sycamore (especially common for veneers), tulipwood, birch and rosewood. Since craftsmen frequently used the local woods at hand, American versions of Hepplewhite's designs can be made of ash or pine as well.

  • Jugendstil: German for "Youth Style." Named after the magazine Jugend, which promoted it. Same time period as French Art Nouveau.

  • Louis Philippe: A 19th Century French style. It takes its name from the monarch who reigned from 1830 to 1848. The simple, softly rounded lines have very little ornamentation, and darker woods such as mahogany, palissandre, and walnut were used. Table and commode surfaces are frequently topped with marble.

  • Louis XV: The major characteristics, in abstract terms, of the style are lightness, assymetry, elegance, and the most exquisitely minute and careful decorative accents. In more practical terms French Louis XV furniture sees great use of interlacing shell decoration, plant and flower motifs, C scrolls and S scrolls. The cabriole leg and scroll foot were refined and used a great deal. The salon, social gathering, whether in palaces or ordinary homes, developed into a common occurence. There was far more concern with convenience and comfort which saw the making of smaller armchairs, sofas, and portable tables. Very large numbers of new furniture types came into being with new emphasis on the need to match consoles, tables, chairs, sofas, lounges, footstools, stools, and mirrors with each other. French cabinetmaking of the Louis XV period continued to be dominated by the master craftsmen of Paris. Guilds of craftsmen maintained strict divisions of labour between the various arms of furniture design and making. "Menuisiers", or cabinet makers or furniture joiners, were allocated all work that used wood including cupboards, tables, beds and other items. Carving, however, was not to be done by menuisiers except for simple ornament of their own design, very decorative and extensive carving being the preserve of the sculptors's guild. Ordinary furniture makers could attach ormolu decoration but were not allowed to make the ormolu itself. Master craftsmen, called "ebenistes", made chairs, sofas, and some case furniture similar to that made by the menuisiers. Louis XV furniture produced by the ebenistes was rich in veneer, elaborate marquetry, and quite ingenious and complex mechanisms such as drawers with fall fronts and secret compartments which could be revealed by touching a button. Upholsterers as well made their contribution to French rococo furniture.

  • Louis XVI: In Louis XVI furniture there is an emphasis on straight lines and right angles, logical design, a sharp move away from the curves of the Rococo. Furniture becomes restrained in its form and decoration, with use of fluted columns, carved friezes, oak and laurel leaf, wreaths, the Greek band, and other various neo-classical attempts to recreate the furniture and architecture of the Romans and Greeks.

  • Queen Anne: American furniture crafted in the Queen Anne style dates from the 1720s to approximately 1750, although the ruler it is named after died in 1714. This style falls within the Colonial period. Marking a shift toward elegance and refinement in American furniture manufacture, Queen Anne style pieces were the first to incorporate the cabriole leg. Most pieces, even pedestal accent tables and bed frames, featured a cabriole-shaped leg even if on a shorter scale than those used on chairs and tables.

  • Sheraton: Sheraton-influenced furniture dates from about 1790-1820. It's named for the London furniture designer and teacher Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806), who trained as a cabinetmaker, but is known for his written guides, especially his first, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing-Book, published 1791-94. A neoclassic style, it falls within the Federal period in the U.S. Sheraton's work often overlaps with that of British designer George Hepplewhite, whose 1788 guidebook, like Sheraton's, documented the designs of the day. However, the slightly later Sheraton style tends to be simpler, almost severe, and favors "a fiercely rectilinear silhouette," according to American Furniture: 1620 to the Present, by Jonathan L. Fairbanks and Elizabeth Bidwell Bates. Few pieces actually built by Sheraton survive today. But his designs and ideas influenced entire generations of furniture-makers, especially in the young U.S., as seen in the works of early American masters such as Duncan Phyfe, Samuel McIntire, and John and Thomas Seymour.

Furniture Pieces:

  • Bergere: A type of upholstered armchair with closed sides (vs. open ones, as in a fauteuil); the sides are usually upholstered, but can also be made of cane; built for comfort, it has a long, wide cushioned seat; the back can be high or low, and in shape square, round, curved or conical (flowing without a break into the arms); developed in France ca. 1725, at the end of the Régence period, it flourished throughout the 18th century; characteristic of Louis XV, Louis XVI and other Rococo styles.

  • Fauteuil: "Fauteuil" means armchair in French. In antique furniture, it specifically means an upholstered armchair with open sides; developed in the late 1600s in France, towards the end of Louis XIV's reign, the style flourished in the 18th century, becoming lighter and more graceful in appearance, but also more ornate - the chair arms were often upholstered to match the back and seat; one variation, the fauteuil à la reine (Queen's armchair), has a square, high back.

  • Chaise Longue: A type of daybed, traditionally consisting of an armchair with an elongated cushioned seat that allows the sitter to stretch out; usually rests on six legs; developed in France in the early 18th century ("chaise longue" literally means "long chair" in French).

  • Console: Originally, a two-legged table attached to a wall, usually via brackets (console means bracket in French); can also mean any table with at least one undecorated straight side, which allows it be placed up against a wall; usually rectangular in shape, but can also be semicircular.

Furniture Elements:

  • Bombe: French term - literally "blown out." Refers to bulging design in Louis XV furniture.

  • Cabriole: A curved furniture leg with the knee curving outward and the ankle curving inward terminating in an ornamental foot.

  • Demilune: Refers to the top of a piece of furniture - usually a small table or commode - shaped like a semi-circle or a half-moon (demi lune translates to half-moon in French).

  • Finial: Carved, turned ornament mounted on top of a piece of furniture.

  • Marquetry: Floral, landscape or other patterns of veneer in woods of contrasting grains and patterns.

  • Ormolu: Gilded metal, usually bronze, applied as decorative ornamentation to fine furniture and antiques.

  • Veneer: Thin sheet of grained wood applied to a surface for decorative effect. Popular from the 17th century.