American Colonial Furniture: Buying Colonial Style Furniture
American colonial furniture comes from a number of different sources. When buying ‘colonial style furniture’ you can choose genuine and reproduction traditional American designs or those originating from Europe and Asia. Whether you purchase original pieces at the high prices they currently command, or reproduction pieces manufactured by specialist companies such as Southwood Furniture, there is big difference between these styes.
Traditional American colonial furniture tends to be plainly designed, originating as it does from the pieces hand-crafted by the early setters and pioneers. The original American furniture was made from hand-hewn wood, which was then fashioned into rough chests, tables and benches.
Colonial Williamsburg Furniture
These gradually became less rough and better finished, and proper chairs, chests and cabinets were added to the repertoire of many craftsmen who had left their own country for a new life in america. Eventually, certain centers became known for their own style of furniture such as the pieces designed by William Hay in Williamsburg, Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg is now recognized as a style in itself.
Early Pilgrim furniture ranged from simple constructions to intricately turned chair spindles and stretchers. Bible chests, containing the family bible and important papers, were usually heavily carved, and the Queen Anne period represents the beginnings of the era of modern furniture. Much American Colonial furniture reproduces Queen Anne and the succeeding Georgian periods when the great cabinetmakers such as Thomas Sheraton, George Heppelwhite and Thomas Chippendale were active.
Mission Style Furniture Designs
A great deal of colonial style furniture was brought to the colonies by the seafarers and wealthy merchants of New England, and it was only natural for local craftsmen, and later craftswomen, to copy these designs. It was an opportunity for the less wealthy to own such wonderful pieces at a much lower price than the originals.
However, many also began introducing their own designs, the simplicity of Shaker styes representing the mission designs of the day. These then because more ornate, though still simple in design, as ‘mission stye’ furniture. Mission furniture is now very popular in the usa, and offered by most furniture manufacturers such as Stickley, American Craftsman and simply Amish.
Before buying colonial style furniture it is important that you are aware of the various styles of American colonial furniture available to you, and also what style would suit your home. Some rooms can tolerate the more ornate, highly carved and turned style of furniture, while others would be better served with a simpler style, such as mission or Shaker furniture.
American Colonial Furniture and Furnishings
In fact, some choose their furniture first, and then design the room décor around it. A room furnished with reproduction American colonial furniture from the Georgian period, for example, would be decorated with heavily patterned flock wallpapers and deep piled carpeting. A lighter, simpler style of decoration would be used with the mission style of furniture.
When buying colonial stye furniture, therefore, it is important that you know the effect you are seeking, since furniture and furnishings go together. A light airy modern home would not look right with the heavy carvings and turned spindles of the Jacobean or earlier Georgian periods, but would certainly support Shaker and Amish mission furniture designs as hand-crafted by firms such as Simple Amish.
Reproduction American colonial furniture is generally manufactured on-site by firms such as Southwood Furniture, while the mission type of colonial style furniture crafted by the Amish are usually made at home, or by individual communities, and marketed from a central company such as Simply Amish.
Furniture as Accent Pieces
If you have no wish to convert an entire room to a particular colonial design, then you can select a colonial style chair or table, for example, as a piece of occasional furniture or as an accent piece. A single Thomas Sheraton desk, with its fine, slender lines, would not look out of place in any modern living room or study.
The originals are very expensive if you can afford them, although reproductions look almost just as good – it takes an expert in furniture to tell one from the other, and even then it is often only through the relative ages of the wood used! A craftsman is a craftsman, whether from the 18th or the 21st century.
Many believe today’s furniture to be more utilitarian than in the colonial days, but that is not the case. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the pieces we now regard as antiques were the utilitarian items of their age. The same is true of art, literature and music – the greats of today should be regarded in the same way as the greats of yesteryear – and likely are.