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).
Other constructional improvements of the 15th century included the introduction of drawers into cupboards and similar storage furniture, and neater and more efficient joints, such as the mitre and the mortise and tenon. Panelling was frequently decorated with a flat form of ornament called linenfold, or parchment. Linenfold was widely used in the north of France, Flanders, Low Germany north to the Baltic, Scandinavia, and England. The linenfold of France, the Low Countries, and Germany is carved with a sharper definition and greater delicacy than was usual in England and elsewhere. Both panelled furniture and room panelling were decorated with linenfold. Other forms of carved decoration on furniture became more common during the 15th century, when surfaces were carved with tracery and other Gothic motifs. During the Middle Ages a great many pieces of furniture, including those with carved decoration, were painted and sometimes gilded, a practice that continued well on into the Renaissance (the present state of existing pieces, with their plain wooden surfaces, is misleading). Chairs, tables, and various types of cupboards were also frequently draped with bright fabrics, while chairs, settles, and other seat furniture were provided with cushions.
The chest was the basic type of medieval furniture, serving as cupboard, trunk, seat, and, if necessary, as a simple form of table and desk. It was from this versatile piece of furniture that several other types, such as the cupboard and the box chair, were evolved. Chests were made of six planks, crudely pegged or nailed together and frequently strengthened with iron banding. Examples of this sort, dating from the 13th century and in many instances found in churches, are among the earliest pieces of extant European furniture. The chest remained one of the most important pieces of furniture until the end of the 15th century, when on the Continent the cupboard began to compete with it in usefulness.
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