The History of Furniture: Early North American

Furniture is often something we take for granted. But, each piece has a storied history. Now we are going to talk about some of those histories in Europe and in North America too. The earliest European settlers in America arrived with only the most basic provisions to re-create their material existence. Most brought little in the way of furniture beyond a chest, small boxes, and other simple storage containers. Plentiful American timber made it unnecessary to ship bulky furniture across the Atlantic at a great expense: thus, from the beginning, furniture making was an essential trade in the colonies.

Early American Furniture - The History of Furniture - Early North American - Blog Post Kaliuda Gallery Bali

Early American Furniture | Source: 

American Furniture

American furniture of the early colonial period generally falls into two stylistic categories: the Seventeenth-Century style (1620–90) and the Early Baroque, or William and Mary, style (1690–1730). The Seventeenth-Century style reflects the transmission into the New World of late medieval and Renaissance traditions by immigrant craftsmen. Furniture in this style is frequently made of straight oak members joined at right angles. It is sturdy and massive, with low, horizontal proportions. Since the outlines tend to be rigidly rectilinear, craftsmen imparted visual interest through abundant surface ornamentation in the form of low-relief carving, applied moldings and turnings, and paint. So seventeenth-century Classical furniture was typically Baroque, grand, and with symmetrical lines, while eighteenth-century Romantic furniture was more Rococo, expressing energy and was more curvaceous. However, since the last century, modern designs from both sides of the ocean have fused to become globally accepted.

The Early American Period

The Early American period was really the first period where a distinct style began to appear within furniture pieces in the colonies that went beyond mere practicality. Ornamental carvings, finials, raised panels and woodturning were hallmarks of this period. Most joinery was of the mortise and tenon variety, with pine, cherry, birch, maple, oak, and fruit woods such as apple comprising the majority of the hardwoods and softwoods used for these pieces. Early furniture makers were certainly active by the mid-1660s, and could especially be found in cities like Boston and Philadelphia where increasing numbers of people lived and worked. In these places, some furniture makers specialized in one type of piece, perhaps concentrating on making cabinets or chairs. They were informed of trends in Europe and made furniture that echoed popular styles.

Early American Furniture Book - The History of Furniture - Early North American - Blog Post Kaliuda Gallery Bali

Early American Furniture Book | Source:

An interesting combination of old and new, there’s a mélange of experimentation and fusions from many directions. Everything in the home had to have practical use and decoration was not seen to be important. ‘Beauty rests on utility’ was one of their catch-phrases. Furniture was made to painstakingly high standards of quality.

Mid-Century Modern

However, later the American mass market and family home dictated more economic brand named styles of furniture. The brash and bold are seen as hallmarks of American styles. Described as ‘Mid-Century Modern,’ ‘Modern’ or ‘Contemporary’, this style became popular in North America during the 1950s and 60s. Open plan was the thing, with furniture lines being straight or curved, to evoke the idea of spaceships and flying.  Now referred to as ‘retro’, large sectional settees would be covered with nubby tweed fabrics. The Modern style focuses on clean lines and function. 

The Early American style of furniture emerged during the second half of the 17th century by American colonists as life in the colonies became more settled. The Early American style is unique; it was the first point where a distinct style emerged and furniture began to be about more than just practicality.

Early American Interior | Source:

Early pieces were large and were based upon styles that were popular in England; however, there were some key differences in physical features. Common motifs on furniture from this time included floral carvings, crescent shapes, and chip-carved scrolls and leaves. These carvings are generally more primitive and less finished than similar English versions.

Early American Furniture

Furniture from this period is known for features like ornamental carvings, raised panels, finials, and woodturning. Common materials included wood like pine, birch, maple, cherry, and oak. Because many of the colonists were still somewhat unsettled, chests were in high demand due to their portability. Other quintessential pieces from this period include the court and press cupboards, trestle tables, and beds with low, simple headboards and low-turned posts.

The Early American movement is an especially important furniture style, as the furniture styles that came after were directly impacted by the styles and techniques established during this time. The unique style and craftsmanship of these pieces make them particularly sought-after today.

Kaliuda Gallery is a reputable high-quality solid furniture factory in Bali-Indonesia. We pride ourselves on offering complete services from assisting in furniture design selection and technical advice, to production schedule, quality control, and shipment logistics. Don’t hesitate to order and customize your furniture needs with us. 


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