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.
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.
The American colonies. As in all colonial settlements, the furniture of the American colonies reflected the style preferences of the individual national groups. This influence, coupled with the existence of new materials and the time lag in transmitting styles and tastes from the home country, in some instances produced highly individual furniture. Information in inventories and wills about 17th-century furniture of the English colonies indicates that it existed in its simplest forms—stools, benches, tables, cupboards, and a few chairs. This furniture, often made of oak, recalled the tradition of Elizabethan England and was turned and decorated with chip carving, often picked-out in earth colours. By the end of the century, pine, maple, and other woods were used. The Dutch and Scandinavian settlers carried with them individual furniture forms whose influence remained local.
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