American furniture styles have come and gone over the centuries but they still tend to mimic traditional European design. A brief examination of American chests, tables, trestles, chairs and other furniture clearly reveals European influence, although sometimes with a pronounced time lag.
Furniture created by the earliest settlers to America was built for function, not style, and is thought to have been crude and makeshift in nature. By the mid-17th century, however, colonies of settlers were becoming more established and some of the earliest known American-made furniture was built. While oversized and unwieldy, the furniture was sturdy and reflected the homeland style of each settlement.
American furniture design can be broken into distinct periods following the early seventeenth century or pilgrim furniture that dominated between 1640 and 1690. The periods, some of with overlap, include: William and Mary style (1700-1730), Queen Anne style (1725-1755), Chippendale style (1755-1790), Federal style (1790-1815), Empire style (1815-1840), Restoration/Pillar/Scroll style (1830-1840), Gothic/Elizabethan Revival style (1830-1865), Rococo Revival style (1840-1870), Renaissance style (1860-1885), Innovation style (1850-1900), Design Reform style (1870-1915) and Art Deco (1930s). More contemporary twentieth- and twenty first-century styles have evolved rapidly and incorporate not only global design trends, but also a wider variety of materials than was available to early American craftsmen.
While each American furniture design style period is marked by certain characteristics, experts agree most developed as an advancement of, or reaction to, the previous design tenets. Styles fluctuated from minimalist to excessive and back again as American homeowners struggled to create an identity and increasing wealth for themselves in a new land.
American furniture, particularly its history, attracts the attention of
antiquarians, collectors, craftsmen, academics and the curious alike. An
extensive library of resources dedicated to all facets of American furniture
has been amassed over the years, and it is easier than ever to learn about
the history, the present, and even the future of American furniture.