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Early Republic Furnishings

DURING the years known as the Federal or Early Republic epoch, there appeared numerous new styles of furnishings, products of native as well as of French cabinetmakers, glass blowers and pottery craftsmen. The influence of French fashions as expressed in Directoire and early Empire styles gave a lighter and more sophisticated touch to interiors than did the preceding Georgian mode.

A little while ago accessories for interior decoration in Early Republic style had to be sought with great patience, but today one may find more easily in cabinet work, hangings, glass or china ware just the things needed to renew the spirit of one of the most interesting decorative periods that we have to draw upon for home decoration.

Of course in those days there were many homes where the ribbon-backed Chippendale chairs, the four-poster bed with tester and the carved highboy were found; but for the new houses built from the proceeds of the growing industrial activities of the nation, owners naturally bought the latest in furniture that could be found in the shops of New York, Philadelphia or Boston or that could be imported. However, in our present-day method of assembling fine pieces of earlier periods in a room suggestive of Early Republic days, for example, we are doubtless true to the old interiors; for fine pieces were bought or preserved then as now for practical, sentimental or artistic reasons. Sheraton style furniture, successively influenced by Directoire and Empire forms and typified in the superb work of the New York cabinetmaker, Duncan Phyfe, was characteristic of the native-made pieces of that time. Furniture was smaller in scale and more comfortable. Interiors had a less grand, a more livable air.

Tall clocks were still occasionally made, but imported French timepieces were found on the mantels of many homes. Later on some of the best examples of Simon Wil lard or the beautiful lyre clocks of Lemuel Curtis began to be hung on the walls. Fine china and glassware generally followed the French fashions. Girandoles, sconces, mirrors and a great many articles in the painted metal known as tole, being easily transported overseas, were among other popular importations from France.

Before the Revolution fashions had been set by England, but after that time many looked to France for the latest ideas in furniture and decorations. Some French im migrants and many visitors, including the famous Lafayette, aided in popularizing things French. With the War of 1812, popular feeling tended still more away from the English styles and toward the elegancies of the simpler Empire forms.

Window hangings, bed coverings and upholstery fabrics generally reflected the French taste. Toile de Jouy, with its pictorial designs, increased in vogue and reflected the contemporary scene in America and especially in the country of their origin in such a way as almost to date a room in which they were used. Today the availability of these old prints, many of which have been revived by manufacturers here as well as in France, makes it an easy matter to obtain by means of the hangings of a room much of the quaint effect of those early days.

Aubusson rugs completely covering the floor, Oriental rugs, and, in great houses, marble tiles, were characteristic floor treatments. Today some of the marble effects of black and white or colored squares in a dining room or entrance hall may be achieved with linoleum-though American tiles have extended their scope. Aubusson rugs are made today on the same looms used a hundred years ago.

In the farmhouses and in village mansions the older types of furniture persisted long after the metropolitan centres had discarded them. For them, this was the heyday of the hooked rug. Every economical housewife made hooked rugs, often copying the design from the roses and scrolls of the newly imported Aubusson rug in the finest house of the village. The wag-on-the-wall clock was replaced by one of the new-fangled banjo clocks or by an Eli Terry shelf clock with its painted front and wooden works.

For the humbler householder in town or country there was imported Staffordshire china in blue and white dinner and tea sets. In Pennsylvania and New England brown and red earthenware, some of which we now know as slip ware, with its quaint decorations scratched through or glazed on, could be bought, and pitchers, jugs and parlor ornaments of pottery from Bennington in Vermont were being peddled around from door to door by itinerant pottery makers.

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