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Synopsis Of Period Styles

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



When trying to select furniture for the home, people often become bewildered by the amount and variety to be found in the shops, and, not knowing exactly what to look for in the different styles, make an inappropriate or bad selection. One does not have to be so very learned to have things right, but there are certain anachronisms which cry to heaven and a little knowledge in advance goes a long way. A purchaser should also know something about the construction and grade of the furniture he wishes to buy. There are good designs in all the grades, which, for the sake of convenience, may be divided into the expensive, the medium in price, and the cheap. The amount one wishes to spend will decide the grade, and one naturally must not expect to find all the beauties and virtues of the first in the last. The differences in these grades lie chiefly in the matters of the fit and balance of doors and drawers; the joining of corners where, in the better grade, the interior blocks used to keep the sides from spreading are screwed as well as glued; the selection of well seasoned wood of fine grain; careful matching of figures made by the grain of the wood in veneer ; panels properly made and fitted so they will not shrink or split; careful finish both inside and out, and the correct color of the stain used; appropriate hardware; hand or machine or "applied" carving. In the cheap grades it is best to leave carving out of the question entirely, for it is sure to be bad. Then there are the matters of the correctness of design and detail, in which all the knowledge one has collected of period furniture will be called upon; and in painted furniture the color of the background and the charm and execution of the design must be taken into account, whether it is done by hand or stenciled. Nearly all kinds of woods are used, the difference in cost being caused by the grade and amount of labor needed, the kind of wood chosen and its abundance and the fineness of grain and the seasoning. Mahogany costs more than stained birch, and walnut than gum wood, but there are certain people who for some strange reason feel that they are getting something a little smarter and better if it is tagged "birch mahogany" than if it were simply called birch. Some of the furniture is well stained and some shockingly done, the would-be mahogany being either a dead and dreary brown or a most hideous shade of red, a very Bolshevik among woods. One must remember that the mahogany of the 18th century, the best that there has ever been, was a beautiful glowing golden brown, and when a red stain was used it was only a little to enhance the richness of the natural color of the wood, more of a suggestion than a blazing fact. The wood was carefully rubbed with oil and pumice, and the shellac finish was rubbed to a soft glow. Modern furniture, especially in the medium and cheap grades, is apt to look as. if it were encased in a hard and shining armor of varnish.

Beside. this practical knowledge one should have a general idea of the artistic side or the appearance of the different period styles and the manner in which they were used. To achieve this, one must study the best examples it is possible to find in originials, pictures, and properly made reproductions. Many of the plates in this book are from extremely valuable originals and should be studied carefully as they give a fine idea of. some of the, chief points in the different styles. One should also go to libraries and Art Museums whenever possible and study their collections. The more knowledge gained the more ease one will have in furnishing one's home whether there is everything to. buy, or one is planning to add a few articles to complete a charming interior, or, with an eye to a future plan, is buying good things piece by piece and slowly eliminating the bad. It is this knowledge which will help you to study your own possessions and decide what is needed and, what will be correct to buy. That. is one of the most important points, to have a well thought out plan,. and never. to be haphazard in your purchases. Very few of us have houses completely furnished in one period, but we do try to have a certain unity of spirit kept throughout the whole, whether. it be French, Italian, English, or our own charming Colonial. There can be a great variety in any one of these divisions, and suit-able furniture can be found for, all rooms, from the simplest kind to the most elaborate. It is easier to find good reproductions in the English periods of Jacobean,. Charles II, William and Mary, Queen Anne, and the Georgian time, and the French periods of Louis XV and Louis XVI.

If one wishes a house furnished in the Gothic period. it will be necessary. to have nearly all the different pieces made to order, as there are few reproductions. made. As our modern necessities of furniture were not known in those days, the designs would have to be carried out more in the spirit of the style than the letter, and one must be certain to have advice and designs from some person who thoroughly understands the period and who will see that the whole is properly carried out. Gothic days were rough and strenuous, and the furniture was strong and heavy and was made chiefly of oak with no varnish of any kind. The characteristic lines of the furniture and the designs for carving were architectural, and a careful study of the Gothic cathedrals of France, Belgium, and England will give a very satisfactory idea of this wonderful time. The idea of the pointed arch, rose window, trefoil, quatrefoil, animal grotesques, and geometric designs, as well as the beautiful linen-fold design, were all adapted for use as carving in the panels of the furniture of the day, which consisted of chests that served as seats, buffets, armoires, screens, trestle tables, as well as the choir stalls of churches.

This style is appropriate to large and dignified country houses. The architect must see that the background is correct.

The Renaissance period should not be attempted as a style to furnish one's house unless it can be carried out properly. The house should be large and architecturally correct, and there should be at least a near relation of a Fortunatus purse to draw upon. It is one of the magnificent and dignified periods, and makeshifts and poor copies have a pitiful appearance and are really time and money wasted.

Much of the furniture of the Renaissance was architectural in design, many chests and cupboards and cabinets having the appearance of temple facades. The carving was in both low and high relief and was extremely beautiful, but in the later part of the period became too ornate. Walnut and chestnut were the chief woods used, and there was much inlay of tortoise shell, ivory, brass, mother-of-pearl, lapis-lazuli, and fine woods. There was much gilding, and paint was also used, and the metal mounts were' of the finest workmanship. The bronze andirons, knockers, candlesticks, of this time have never been. equalled. There was a strong feeling of balance in the decorations, and the chief motifs were the acanthus beautifully carved, conventionalized flowers and fruit, horns of plenty, swags and wreaths of fruit and flowers, the scroll, dolphin, human figure, and half figure ending in fanciful designs of foliage. Beautiful and fascinating arabesques were carved and painted on the walls and pilasters. The chief pieces of furniture were magnificently carved chests and coffers which were also some-times gilded and painted, oblong tables with elaborately carved supports at each end, usually with a connecting shelf on which were smaller carved supports. The chairs were high backed with much carving and gilding, and there were others of simpler form with leather or tapestry or damask seats and backs. The Savanarola chair was in the form of a curved X with seat and back of velvet or leather or some-times wood on which a cushion was used. Mirror frames were magnificently carved and gilded and picked out with color. The rooms were a fitting background for all this splendor, for the woodwork and walls were paneled and carved and painted, the work often being done by the greatest painters of the day.

The French Renaissance followed the general line of the Italian but was lighter and less architectural in its furniture designs and ornament. Chairs were slowly becoming more common, and rooms began to be more livable.

The English Renaissance was of slow growth and was always marked by a certain English sturdiness, which is one of the reasons why it is more easily used in our modern houses. It began in the time of Henry VIII and lasted through the Tudor and Jacobean periods.

The best modern copies of Renaissance furniture are not to be found in every shop and are usually in the special order class. There are some makers in America, however, who make extraordinarily fine copies, and there is the supply from Europe of fine copies and "faked" originals—a guaranteed original is a very rare and expensive thing.

The period of Louis XIV in France was another "magnificent" period and should not be used in small or simple houses. Louis XIV furniture was large and massive, lavish in gilding and carving and ornament, but had dignity as well as splendor. The Gobelin and Beauvais Tapestry Works produced their wonderful series of tapestries, and Boulle inlay of brass and tortoise shell was lavished on furniture, and the ormolu mounts were beautiful and elaborate. All workmanship was of the highest. During the early part of the period the legs of chairs and tables were straight and square in shape, sometimes tapering, and much carved, and had underframing. Later they were curved and carved, a kind of elaborate cabriole leg, and had carved underframing. Toward the end of the period the curved leg and underframnig became much simpler, some of the furniture having no underframing, and slowly the style merged into that of the Regency and Louis XV. The illustrations for the long chapter on Louis XIV show some very fine examples of both the grand and simple form of chair, and also show that comfort was becoming more of a fact. The materials used for upholstery were brocades of large pat-tern, tapestries, and splendid velvets. Tables, chests, armoires, desks, console tables, mirrors, screens, all were carved or painted or inlaid, gilded and mounted with wonderful metal mounts.

There is great danger, in buying furniture for both this period and the Renaissance, that the reproductions chosen may be too florid, the gilding too bright, the carving too ornate, with an indescribable vulgarity of line in place of the beauty of line which the best originals have. Some of the best makers are, however, making some very fine reproductions of the simpler forms of this time which are beautiful to use in houses of fair size and importance.

If one wishes to use Louis XV furniture it is better to choose the simpler and more beautiful designs rather than the over-elaborate rococo. The period was a long one, sixty-nine years, and began with a reminiscence of the grandeur and dignity of the time of Louis XIV, which was soon lost in the orgy of curves and excessive ornament of the rococo portion; and toward the end came the reaction to simpler and finer taste which reached its perfection in the next reign of Louis XVI. The legs of the furniture of Louis XV time were curved and carved, light and slender, and had no under-frames or stretchers. The frames which showed around the upholstery or cane were carved elaborately and later more simply (see illustration at end of chapter on Louis XV) . Walnut, chestnut, ebony, and some mahogany were used. Some of the furniture was veneered, and there was a great deal of gilding used and also much painted furniture. The ormolu mounts were most elaborate, curved and ornate like the carving, and were used wherever possible. The brocades used for furniture coverings were lovely in color and design. Garlands, flowers, lace and ribbon effects, baskets of flowers, shells, curled endive, feathers, scrolls, all were used, as well as pastoral scenes by Boucher and Watteau for tapestry and paintings. Comfort had made a long step forward.

The period of Louis XVI was much more beautiful in style than the preceding one, as it was more restrained and exquisite because of the use of the straight line or a gracious, simple curve. This comparative simplicity does not come from lack of true feeling for beauty but rather because of it. The sense of proper proportion was shown in both the furniture and the room decoration. The backs of chairs and settees were round or rectangular, and the legs were square, round, or fluted, and were tapering in all cases. The fluting was sometimes filled with metal husks at top and bottom, leaving a plain stretch between. Walnut and mahogany were much used and were beautifully polished, but had no vulgar and hard varnished glare. There was wonderful inlay and veneer, and much of the furniture was enamelled in soft colors and picked out with gold or some harmonizing color. Gilding was also used for the entire frame. The metal mounts were very fine. Brocades of lovely color and designs of flowers, bowknots, wreaths, festoons, lace, feathers, etc.; chintz, the lovely "toil de Jouy," which is so well copied nowadays; soft toned taffeta, Gobelin and Beauvais and Aubusson tapestries, were all used for hanging and furniture coverings. Cane also became much more popular. Walls were paneled with moldings, and fluted pilasters divided too large spaces into good proportions. Tapestry and paintings were paneled on the walls, and the colors chosen for the backgrounds were light and soft.

The charm and beauty of this style as well as its dignity make it one which may be used in almost any modern house, as it ranges from simplicity to a beautiful restrained elaborateness suitable to the formal rooms

The change from Louis XVI to the Empire was a violent one both politically and artistically. The influence of the great days of the Roman empire and the mystery of ancient Egypt stirred Napoleon's imagination and formed his taste. Empire furniture was solid and heavy, with little or no carving, and much ornamentation of metal mounts. Mahogany was chiefly used, and some furniture was gilded or bronzed. Round columns finished with metal capitals and bases appeared on large desks and other pieces of furniture. Chairs were solid, many of them throne-like in design, and many with elaborately carved arms in the form of swans and sphinxes, and metal ornaments. The simpler form of chair, which was copied and used extensively in America as a dining-chair, often had a curved back and graceful lines. Furniture coverings were very bright satins and velvets brocaded with the Emperor's favorite emblems, the bee, torch, wreath, anthemion. It is a heavy and gaudy style and must be used with great discretion. American Empire furniture was far simpler and is better suited to many American homes. In buying it, however, one must be careful to select copies from the earlier part of the time, for it fast deteriorated into heavy and vulgar curves. This American Empire furniture is often shown in the shops under the name of Colonial, which is a misnomer, as we had ceased to be colonies years before it came into existence. It was used during the first half of the nineteenth century.

When we come to English furniture, I think we all take heart of grace a little, for there is something about its sturdiness that seems to appeal to our American sense of appropriateness. By inheritance we have more of the English point of view about the standards of life and living and we seem to settle down with more comfort in a house furnished in any one of the English periods than we do with any of the other great styles.

The English Renaissance is often called the age of oak, and all through the long years of its slow development this oaken bond, so to speak, gave it a certain unity which makes it possible to use much of the furniture of its different divisions together. There are many fine reproductions made of the Tudor and Elizabethan times, but from the early Stuart days, the time of James I onward, good reproductions become more plentiful. This does not mean, how-ever, that one is safe in buying anything called Jacobean or Queen Anne or Georgian. One must still be careful and go armed with as much knowledge as possible. For in-stance, do not buy any Tudor, Elizabethan, Jacobean, or Charles II furniture made of mahogany or with a high polish. Do not buy any with finicky or delicate brass handles. This may seem an unnecessary warning, but I have seen dainty oval Hepplewhite handles used on a heavy Jacobean chest. This does not happen often, but a word to the wise The handles which were used were some times of iron and sometimes of brass, often with a little design etched on them, and the drop handles were either oblong or round rings, or pear- or tear-shaped drops with either a round or oblong plate. H-hinges of iron were used. Chairs of the time of James I, which are much like those of Louis XIII in France, were square and strong with plain or spiral turned legs, and stretchers, and had seats and half backs covered with needlework, leather, velvet, or damask. They would make very comfortable dining chairs and would harmonize with sturdy gate-legged tables, or the long narrow tables which show the influence of Elizabeth's time in the carved drum or acorn-like bulbs of the legs. A court-cupboard would make a beautiful sideboard, and one of the long tables spoken of above would make an appropriate serving-table. Carved chests, and screens covered with leather or needle-work, may be used in rooms of this kind, and for modern comfort one may add stuffed chairs and sofas if the proper materials for coverings are chosen. There are some very fine copies made of old needlework of different kinds and also of damasks and other stuffs. One must have the right background for all this, oak paneled walls and tapestry and plain or figured velvet or damask hangings. There are also some finely designed heavy linens which are correct to use.

The furniture of Cromwell's time was much like that of the time of James I and Charles I, but was simplified wherever possible. There were no pomps and vanities in those stern days.

When Charles II came to the throne, there was a reaction against Puritan gloom which showed in the furniture being of a more elaborate design. Chair backs were high and narrow with carved and pierced panels of wood, or carved backs with cane panels, and the carved front rail carried out the feeling and balanced the carved top rail. The crown and rose and shell were used, supported by cherubs and opposed S curves. The illustration opposite page 65 will give a very good idea of the general style. Upholstery was also used, and day-beds and high-boys made their appearance. The chests of earlier days became chests of drawers. Rooms were paneled in oak, and much beautiful tapestry was used. Walnut began to take the place of oak in the later days of Charles II and those of James II, and introduced the age of walnut which lasted through the reigns of William and Mary and Queen Anne.

The furniture of the early days of William and Mary was much like that of the time of Charles II. The chair backs remained high and narrow, but the carving slowly grew simpler and the caning at last •went entirely across the back. Many of the early chairs had three carved splats or balusters in the back, and a feature which added greatly to comfort was the slight curve the backs were given instead of the perfectly straight backs of Jacobean days. Dutch influence at least conquered the old style, and the more characteristic furniture of William and Mary was made. A rather elaborate form of the cabriole leg was used, ending in a species of hoof with a scroll-like stretcher between the front legs and curved stretchers connecting all four legs. The cabriole leg became simpler as time passed until in the days of Queen Mary it became the one we all know so well in the Dutch chairs and the early work of Chippendale.

There was much beautiful marquetry used; in fact it is a marked characteristic of much of the furniture of William and Mary. After she died in 1694, the white jasmine flower and green leaves were not used so much, and the sea-weed pattern and acanthus became more popular.

The cup-and-ball design of turned legs with curved stretchers was used for chairs, settees, tables, cabinets. China cupboards with their double-hooded tops and soft colored brocade linings were used to display the wonderful china collections so much in vogue. There was much upholstered furniture covered with beautiful petit-point, which is perfectly reproduced nowadays, but is naturally expensive. Silks, velvets, and damasks were also used, and Queen Mary had a "beautiful chintz bed."

The handles used were of various kinds, the favorite being the drop from a round or star-shaped boss. The furniture was beautifully polished but did not have a bright gloss.

When Anne came to the throne in 1702, the English cabinet maker had became an expert craftsman, and we have the beginning of the finest period of English cabinet-making, which later, in the Georgian period, blossomed into its full glory. The furniture of this time was of walnut. The chairs had a narrow, fairly high back, with a central splat spoon-shaped and later fiddle-shaped. The corners of the back were always rounded. The cabriole legs were often carved with a shell on the knees, the acanthus being used in the more elaborate pieces of furniture, and ended chiefly in a club foot. Stretchers became less common, but if they were used were pushed back and did not form such an important part of the chair design. Seats were broader at the front than at the back, and all furniture showed a real desire for comfort and convenience. Marquetry and lacquer were both in great favor, and there are wonderful examples of both reproduced, but especially lacquer. Petit-point, damask, velvet, and chintz were all used for upholstery and hangings. Chintz was becoming more plentiful, but it was not until the Georgian period that it reached its perfection.

The Georgian period covers the work of Chippendale, the Adam Brothers, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton, who gave to the eighteenth century its undying decorative fame.

When Chippendale began his fine work, the Dutch influence of Queen Anne's reign was still strong, and this shows in his furniture; but his genius lightened and improved it. The characteristics of his style which remained fairly stable through his different phases were the use of mahogany, a certain squareness and solidity of design which has no appearance of heaviness because of the fine proportions, chair backs with a center splat reaching to the seat. The curving top rail always had curving up corners (see drawings page 84) . The center splat was solid at first, but soon was pierced and carved, and went through the many developments of his style such as ribbon-back, Chinese, and Gothic. In some chairs he also used horizontal rails, and what are called "all-over backs." The legs of his earlier furniture were cabriole, and later they were straight. He used much and beautiful carving, gave great attention to the beauty of the wood and the perfection of workmanship and finish. Chippendale's settees were at first designed like two chair backs side by side, and if a larger settee was made either a third chair back of the same design or a different but harmonizing one was used. His dining-tables were made up of two center pieces with wide flaps on each side, and two semicircular tables, and all four pieces could be fastened together into one long table by brass fasteners. The end pieces were used as side tables or sideboards, for the sideboard as we know it did not come until later. He also made oblong sidetables, some with marble tops, which were used as sideboards with wine-coolers placed underneath, and usually a large tea-caddy or tea box on top. The beds which Chippendale made were large and elaborate four-posters, with beautiful carved cornices and posts. The curtains hung from the inside of the cornice, and silks or chintz were used for the curtains. His mirror frames were very elaborately carved, and in his rococo period were fairly fantastic with dripping water, Chinese pagodas, rocks, birds with long beaks, and figures. They were gilded, and some were left in the natural mahogany. He made folding card-tables with saucer-like places at the' corners for candles, and later when the candle-stand came into fashion, the tables were made without them.

There are many fine reproductions of Chippendale's furniture made which carry out the spirit of his work. In the medium and inexpensive grades, however, there is danger of bad carving, a clumsy thickening of proportions, a jumble of his different periods, and too red a stain and too high a varnish glitter. Good examples can be found in these grades, but one must spend time looking for them, and perhaps it may be necessary to have them rubbed down with powdered pumice and linseed oil. If one uses Chipendale furniture, or that of any of the other Georgian makers, the walls should not be covered with a modern design of wall paper. Plain walls or molding may be used, or one of the fine old designs of figured paper, and this must be used with great discretion and is better if there is a wainscot. Chippendale was very fond of using morocco, but damask and velvet and chintz may also be used. The chintzes were charming in design, and many good copies are made.

The Adam Brothers, of whom Robert was the more important, showed strong classical influence in their work, and much of it resembles that of Louis XVI, which was influenced from the same source. Chairs had square or round or oval backs, and they also used a lyre-shaped splat which was copied later by Sheraton. Often the top rail was decorated by small and charming painted panels. These little panels were also used in the center of cobweb caning in chair backs and settees. Legs of chairs and tables were tapering and round or square and often reeded or fluted. Adam used much mahogany and kept its beautiful golden brown tone (not the dead brown called "Adam" too often in the shops) , and also satin-wood and painted wood. The best artists of the day did the painting. Wedgwood medallions were introduced into the more important pieces of furniture. Painted placques, lovely festoons, and charming groups of figures, vases of flowers, and Wedgwood designs, and designs radiating from a center, as on semicircular console table tops, are all characteristic of his work. He also used much inlay. As Adam usually planned all the furniture and the interior of the house, even to the door-knobs, he kept the feeling of unity in both background and furnishings.

Hepplewhite's furniture has much of the delicacy of Adam's work, by whom, without doubt, he was influenced, as he was also by the French styles of the time. Luckily his own personality and sense of beauty and ingenuity were strong enough to develop a marked and beautiful style of his own. His favorite chair back was shield-shaped (see page 83), and he also used heart-shaped and wheel backs, either round or oval, and charmingly painted little panels. The three feathers of the Prince of Wales was a favorite design. He also made ladder-back chairs, usually with four rails. On much of his furniture the legs tapered on the inside edge only and were put in at a slight angle which gave security both in fact and appearance. He also used reeded legs. His console and other tables are beautiful in design and workmanship, being painted usually in different forms of the radiating fan design, or inlaid with beautiful colored woods. The inlay used was often oval in shape, sometimes only a line and sometimes panels of different woods or matched veneer. The handles used were round or oval. He made sofas and settees with either chair-back backs or all upholstered with the frame showing and the covering tacked on with brass tacks close together. His cabinets are fascinating, with their beautiful inlay and delicate strap work over the glass. He made four-post beds with fluted posts, and chests of drawers and little work tables and candle-stands and screens ; and one thing we must be deeply grateful to him for is that he developed the sideboard into a really useful and beautiful piece of furniture. He made nearly everything in the way of necessities, and all show the marks of his taste. His dining-tables were on the plan of those of Chippendale but lighter in effect with tapering legs instead of the long cabriole leg ending in claw feet. His mirrors were usually oval with charming festoons. His favorite woods were mahogany and satin-wood, and he used many fine woods for inlay. Chintz and taffeta and fine velvet are all appropriate to use.

In his best designs Sheraton was much influenced by Adam and Hepplewhite and the style of Louis XVI, but like them he also developed his own special and beautiful style. He used mahogany and a great deal of satin-wood of beautiful grain and of a delightful straw color, which was often veneered on oak frames. He was exceedingly fond of inlay, and his designs called for inlaid panels, borders, and festoons. He used the shell, bell-flower, fan, etc., all carried out in fine colored woods. He also used much painted furniture, and often designed white and gold furniture for drawing-rooms. His characteristic chair back was rectangular in shape with a central splat resting on a rail a few inches above the seat (see page 83). This splat was in many different forms, both inlaid and painted. The legs of his furniture were tapering and either square or reeded, the square usually being inlaid. He made beautiful sideboards which were inlaid and finished with a brass rail around the sides and back of the top, and round or oval or lion's-head handles with rings. He also designed most graceful inlaid knife boxes. Like Hepplewhite, he designed all kinds of furniture both large and small, and, until his deterioration came when he designed his astonishing Empire furniture, his style is full of beauty and charm and delicacy, and is copied very successfully by our modern makers.



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