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.
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).
Apart from the gradual change from Gothic to Renaissance ornament, the 16th century produced several changes in the design and construction of individual types. Chairs became slightly more common, though even in Elizabeth's own palaces, stools were the usual form of seating. From the box chair evolved a type in which the arms and legs were no longer filled in with panelling but which had plain or turned legs, with shaped arms resting on carved or turned supports. The backs of chairs were still panelled and decorated with carving and inlay or surmounted with a wide and richly carved cresting. Folding chairs, X-shaped and of varying construction, were also used. Chairs without arms, called farthingale chairs, were introduced in the early 17th century to accommodate the wide skirts, called farthingales, that were popular at the time. Farthingale chairs had upholstered seats and a low, rectangular upholstered back raised on short supports a little above the seat. Armchairs of similar design were made. Turkey work (a type of needlework) and velvet were usually employed for upholstery.
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