Woods and Ornamentation, A number of different types of woods were used during this period including rosewood and mahogany with rich graining. Some pieces had pine bases with mahogany veneers, and when crafted nicely together they had the appearance of solid wood. Those with simpler graining in the veneer usually fall into the cottage furniture category. Marble tops on tables were also popular during this period. Ormolu laurel wreaths decorated the sides and fronts of desks and cabinets to help to prevent scratching and nicks in the wood. High relief carvings included pineapples, cornucopias, acanthus leaves, and the statement-making caryatid. “The Sphinx, resembling a Pharaoh's head on a body of a lion with claw feet, enthralled everyone. Soon claw feet became an Empire icon bedecking everything from chairs to beds,” said Frank Farmer Loomis IV in Antiques 101. However, claw feet on American pieces were mostly carved while on French styles they tended to be ormolu. He also notes that legs for tables and other pieces were often fashioned like classically shaped columns.
Other constructional improvements of the 15th century included the introduction of drawers into cupboards and similar storage furniture, and neater and more efficient joints, such as the mitre and the mortise and tenon. Panelling was frequently decorated with a flat form of ornament called linenfold, or parchment. Linenfold was widely used in the north of France, Flanders, Low Germany north to the Baltic, Scandinavia, and England. The linenfold of France, the Low Countries, and Germany is carved with a sharper definition and greater delicacy than was usual in England and elsewhere. Both panelled furniture and room panelling were decorated with linenfold. Other forms of carved decoration on furniture became more common during the 15th century, when surfaces were carved with tracery and other Gothic motifs. During the Middle Ages a great many pieces of furniture, including those with carved decoration, were painted and sometimes gilded, a practice that continued well on into the Renaissance (the present state of existing pieces, with their plain wooden surfaces, is misleading). Chairs, tables, and various types of cupboards were also frequently draped with bright fabrics, while chairs, settles, and other seat furniture were provided with cushions.
Working in The Empire Style. Charles-Honore' Lannuier, a French immigrant, was one of the first cabinetmakers to introduce this style in America, according to Schwartz. He added gilded carving to his pieces that made them elegant and appealing in his New York workshop. Duncan Phyfe's shop was influenced by this style as well in the 1820s and 1830s, but in a much more restrained way although still quite elegant in its appearance. But the more elaborate designs came out of Boston and Philadelphia. All the craftsmen working in this style were likely fed by publications of the day. They included designs based on those shown in British author Thomas Hope's Household Furniture and Interior Design and others adapted from French styles. Of course, the name Empire originating from the French wasn't used in England due to political conflicts with France at the time. The British preferred Regency as their moniker for the style with many of the same elements. Americans, being friendlier with the French than England after our own conflict for independence, took to the name Empire more readily back then, and it endures when describing these pieces today. Occasionally the term Classical will be used to describe these styles as well.
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