Early Middle Ages. With the collapse of the Roman Empire during the 4th–5th centuries, Europe sank into a period in which little furniture, except the most basic, was used: chairs, stools, benches, and primitive chests were the most common items. Several centuries were to pass before the invading Teutonic peoples evolved forms of furniture that approached the Roman standard of domestic equipment. Comparatively little furniture of the medieval period in Europe has survived, and only a handful of these pieces date from before the end of the 13th century. One reason for this is the perishable nature of wood, but more important is the fact that furniture was made in relatively small quantities until the Renaissance.
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.
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).
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