THE BEGINNINGS OF
furniture, just like Americans, is a mix of different styles resulting
from the blending of styles of furniture brought to America by its
immigrants. When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, they
brought with them a few meager possessions an armchair, a small table,
a desk. All of these pieces were made in what is known as the Jacobean
Jacobean and William and Mary furniture tended to be heavy,
almost ponderous. It was made in both England and this country of solid
wood, especially oak, although walnut became quite fashionable for
William and Mary pieces. Simplicity of structure, straight lines, and
squat proportions were typical. Legs were firmly braced with stretchers.
Carving was preferred to inlay and veneer for
decoration. Many a Jacobean piece appeared weighted down by its carving.
Typical were panels, as on the doors of chests, carved in geometric
designs. A variation was strapwork consisting of thin, flat pieces of
wood. The backs of chairs also often were solid wood, carved. However,
seats might be upholstered with leather or woven pads in England. In
this country rush seats were more common.
Beds were monstrous, although how much of this effect
was due to the bedstead and how much to the hangings is a question.
Never before or since were beds so high as between 1600 and 1660.
Hangings were important, and could be drawn to cover the four sides of a
bed. Their purpose was to shut out the cold. Truckle or trundle beds,
which were low and on wheels so they could be pushed under a bedstead,
were made for children and servants. Daybeds were quite another thing
and were the forerunners of reclining couches. Tables were long. The
trestle, which is the oldest style of table and goes back to Medieval
times, began to have some competition. The gateleg table, a style still
popular, was made first during the Jacobean period. Cricket tables with
three legs were also new.
Stools perhaps were even more common than chairs. They
were made in great numbers and doubled as seats and tables. They were
about the height of a chair seat.
Side chairs and armchairs, which were really side
chairs with wood arms attached, offered little choice when it came to
comfort. In addition to solidbacks, there were slat-back chairs, which
had three or more wide and usually shaped wooden pieces horizontally
across the back. The banister-back chair had fairly wide vertical slats
surmounted by a crest or top rail. Some of these top rails, as well as
the banisters, were more richly carved than others.
The latter part of the seventeenth century,
technically known as the Restoration period in England, followed by
William and Mary, brought lighter and more adaptable furniture. Special
turnings, scrolled and more elaborate stretchers, became fashionable.
Decorations expanded to include lacquer, marquetry, and some inlay.
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