Empire Style Furniture Designs Popular in the Early- to Mid-1800s, Antique Furniture with Roman, Greek, and Egyptian Influences. While this style was going strong in France even earlier, and the English had their Regency designs of the same influence, Empire designs didn't really take hold in the United States until about 1815. This was a continuation of earlier neoclassical styles like Hepplewhite and Sheraton, but with a much stronger influences in terms of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian ornamentation. Literally for decades, all the way through the mid-19th century, the Empire look was in fashion in America. One of the interesting aspects of Empire styles is that they were seen at all price points. The wealthy often purchased very elegant pieces while those living more modestly could more readily buy items for “cottage use,” which had plainer veneers or were painted, according to American Furniture: Tables, Chairs, Sofas and Beds by Marvin D. Schwartz (now out of print, but widely available through used booksellers).
Framed panelling had been used in ancient times, as examples found at Herculaneum testify; its reintroduction in the Burgundian Netherlands at the beginning of the 15th century was an improvement that soon spread throughout western Europe. Panelled construction solved the problem of building large surface areas, as on the front of a chest or cupboard, which before this time had been limited by the size of individual planks. These planks, usually hewn with an adz, were heavy and liable to warp and split. Panels could be cut thinner, the main strain being taken by the framework, and the furniture was therefore lighter; moreover, if the panels were not fitted too tightly in their stiles, the wood was less likely to split if it did warp. Now that it was possible to construct larger surface areas, a new range of storage furniture, cupboards and chests in particular, was developed.
The royal footstool was painted with the figures of traditional enemies of Egypt so that the pharaoh might symbolically tread his enemies under his feet. Carvings of animal feet on straight chair legs were common, as were legs shaped like those of animals. Boxes, often elaborately painted, or baskets were used for keeping clothes or other objects. Tables were almost unknown; a pottery or wooden stand supporting a flat basketwork tray held dishes for a meal, and wooden stands held great pottery jars containing water, wine, or beer. The Egyptians used thin veneers of wood glued together for coffin cases; this gave great durability. Egyptian furniture in general was light and easily transportable; its decoration was usually derived from religious symbols, and stylistic change was very slow.
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