Little English furniture survives from medieval times, and, as on the Continent, information must be sought in contemporary references and from the picture of domestic interiors in illustrated manuscripts. Most of these manuscripts are of French or Flemish origin, but they furnish reliable evidence on English interiors because the governing classes, who were practically the sole possessors of proper furniture, copied the domestic habits of the Continent. English oak was the chief material, but softer woods also were used. A certain amount of furniture was imported from abroad, providing new ideas for the English carpenter and joiner. The furniture usually found in important houses consisted of beds, chests, cupboards, tables, benches, and stools.
Tables with round and rectangular tops and three and four legs were common. Tables with round tops and three legs of animal form became increasingly popular from the 4th century BCE onward. A nearly complete wooden table, found in Egypt and now in the Palais du Cinquantenaire, Brussels, is decorated with swans' heads with graceful necks rising out of a band of acanthus foliage, below which are very realistic antelope legs, with hoofs instead of claw feet. This type of table seems to have been popular throughout the Roman empire, as it often appears on tombstones depicting funerary banquets. It is known that citrus wood and Kimeridgian shale were favourite materials. Several complete tables found at Pompeii and Herculaneum, usually in gardens or open courts, are made of marble and decorated with beautifully carved heads of lions and panthers. Another type of smaller table is round or rectangular with only one central leg.
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.
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