American Colonial Style Furniture Information

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American colonial-style furniture is a combination of the features found in William and Mary, Queen Anne and Chippendale-style furniture. Compared to the European furniture made in the 17th and 18th centuries, early colonial furniture in the United States from the same period was simpler and less ornate. Much of the furniture was handmade by the settlers, just as their plates, spoons and cups were, to make up for the lack of furniture in their new homes.

Humble Beginnings

  • Early American settlers who came from Europe, such as soldiers and farmers, brought little with them and built simple homes. The furniture in the homes of these pioneers consisted mostly of benches and a table, with feathers and rags for mattresses that were laid directly on the floor. Early American settlers began making their own furniture, such as chairs, chests and cupboards, from wood found in nearby forests to make their homes in the "New World" more comfortable. This gave birth to what is now known as American colonial-style furniture.

Available Materials

  • Due to its availability, wood was the main material used to make American colonial furniture. The most common woods used were maple, cherry and oak. Some pieces were also made of ash, black walnut, elm, hickory or mahogany. Materials used to craft hinges, drawer pulls and other hardware included brass, iron, leather and wood. Some of the fabrics used in upholstered American colonial furniture were chintz, crewel, damask, needlepoint and tapestry. Cane was also used as furniture material, such as for chair seats and chair backing.

Keep it Simple

  • American colonial furniture was characteristically heavy and solid, with straight lines and little ornamentation. Chairs were either fiddle-back, ladder back, solid or spindle. The legs in this type of furniture were cabriole, sometimes embellished with decorative carvings, simple turnings or left straight. The feet of chairs and tables were either flat-surfaced blocks, a rounded foot or an angular curved foot, know as a bracket. Drawer pulls consisted of carved wooden handles or elongated, turned wooden knobs. Dovetail or mortise and tenon joints were used. One of the most popular decorative motifs of the period was the maple leaf, however the acanthus leaf and floral motifs were used as well.

Faux or Authentic

  • As this furniture was handcrafted over 200 years ago, original American colonial furniture pieces are valuable antiques. Genuine early American colonial furniture is hard to find and expensive, due to the quality of the wood used by the settlers and the craftsmanship applied to create them. If you can't find or afford the original, consider purchasing reproductions, which are much less expensive and easier to find. Some available reproductions are also made by hand using the same types of wood and identical techniques as genuine colonial furniture to create pieces as close to the originals as possible.

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