The religious houses were an exception to this in that they enjoyed a certain security denied to the outside world. Much of the best furniture of this period was therefore made for use in churches and monasteries, and many of the ideas and developments that were later to add to the domestic comfort of Europe originated in the cloister. An example can be seen in the early development for ecclesiastical use of the various types of reading and writing furniture, such as lecterns and desks, that show ingenuity in construction. Throughout the Middle Ages and well on into the 16th and 17th centuries, all types of furniture remained scarce, and any reasonably good furniture belonged to the nobility and the wealthy merchants. The household equipment of the peasantry throughout Europe, even as late as the 18th century, was frequently crude in design and roughly constructed.
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).
Many of these chairs had exaggeratedly high backs terminating in elaborately carved canopies; some were freestanding, while others had their backs fixed to the wall in the manner of a church stall. Settles were also used for seating during the 15th century. An innovation on the Continent was the settle with a pivoted bar forming the backrest, which could be swung over to allow a person to sit on either side—evidence of the weight of the furniture of this period. Tables were mainly of trestle construction (with a braced frame serving as a support for the tabletop) with long rectangular tops that could be dismantled. During the 15th century on the Continent, smaller tables were made which could be more conveniently moved and, especially, drawn up to the fire. Various forms of cupboards, ambries, and dressoirs were developed at this time, panelled and decorated with linenfold or Gothic carved ornament. All these types were basically a chest with doors, of simple rectangular form raised on legs; elaborations of construction and decoration soon followed, as did the specialization of their functions.
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