A Quick History of Furniture in America

The United States of America may be a very young nation, but Rentan furniture in the USA has greatly evolved since the times of the earliest settlers.

The Early American Period

Registering between 1640 and 1700, the Early American Period is easy to identify as the beginning of furniture in the North American colonies.  This style featured conventions of practicality though was still characterized by ornamental carvings, finials, woodturnings, and raised panels.  Common woods to this era were birch, cherry, maple, oak, and pine as well as the wood from fruit trees (probably because orchards were also quite plentiful).  Apple was among the most common hardwoods of the time and was prominently featured in the furniture pieces of this era.

The Colonial Period

Including the William and Mary, Queen Anne, and Chippendale eras, this period lasted from 1700 to 1780.  Colonial pieces were heavily influenced by English furniture, obviously, as this was the time of major British colonization throughout the Americas.  Pieces form this time are noted or finishes in paint, oil varnish, or wax over stain.  Also, the dovetail joint started to become more popular; and elm, walnut, and mahogany started to be more commonly used.

The Pennsylvania Dutch Period

Between 1720 and 1830, German influences in North America helped to characterize this period in American furniture history.  These pieces were intended for simple, practical function: straight lines, simple turnings, tapered legs.  Strong woods like oak and walnut were predominantly used.

The Federal and Sheraton Period

From only 1780 to 1820 this period was very short—and inside another era—but it helped to introduce ornamental styles like fluting and the inlay of contrasting woods to create new designs. These pieces reminisced of French and English elegance with brass hardware. Furniture from this period may be the most widely-reproduced style of the 19th century.

The American Empire

From 1800 to 1840, the United States of America was working hard to establish itself as a truly independent nation but furniture styles still took much of its lead from French and English influences.  At this time, though, there was more emphasis on curved arms, ornate, paw, and claw feet, and cabriole legs.  

The Shaker Period

Between 1820 and 1860, the Shaker period evolved. Part of a religious movement to avoid all ostentation, furniture influenced during this period was utilitarian in concept.  Compared with other styles, this furniture looks boring, featuring only straight lines with, perhaps, woven or cane seating material.

The Victorian Period

Named after Queen Victoria, this period (1840 to 1910) was a near complete reversal from the Shaker period. It featured formal, opulent designs with ornate upholstery.