Early American Furniture (17th - 18th Century)

The American homes of the 17th century settlers were sparsely furnished. The only furniture items found around the home were the very basic necessities of their everyday life.

Most of the early American furniture and furnishings were hand made by them, when they needed them. Few pieces were ever purchased. For the entire period of the 17th century, the decorative arts of the Early Americans reflected the characters of the Restoration art movements and the Jacobean style.

Early American Table
Early American Table | Source

Though some traditional furniture was brought to America from England during the migration, the local craftsmen and woodworkers were the ones who produced the necessities.

They tried their best to imitate the furniture designs of the much better imported units to the best of their ability, but without the fine cabinetry and furniture tools, it wasn’t so easy.

Many of the settlers had no choice but to produce the furniture they remembered before the migration, trying to recollect from a dimming memory.

All furniture designs were made of wood and tended to be uncomfortable, and in order to add some comfort, they introduced loose cushions for the stools and chairs.

Cushions and slip covers were made from materials like embroidered textiles, needlepoint and even silk, which was imported from England and afforded by only a handful of people

Other textiles or fabrics for clothing, quilts, etc., were hand woven by the women of the house.

Furniture Items

Typical household furniture items used in the all-purpose living room are:

  • Chest
  • Cupboard
  • Desk box
  • Wainscot chair
  • Turned chairs
  • Trestle table
  • Small tables
  • Stool and Settle
  • A table-chair
  • Drop-leaf table
  • Gate leg table

The main furniture items used in the bedroom which was shared by the whole family are the:

  • Four poster beds
  • Trundle beds
  • Wooden cradles for the babies
  • Storage chests

18th Century Furniture
18th Century Furniture | Source

They had certain limitations in that fine furniture crafting tools used in England was not found in sufficient numbers in the early American localities, so the fine crafting of cabinetry and furniture making was lacking.

However, the general trend to introduce some finesse into crafting was by the introduction of simplified decorations, wood trims, and mouldings.

Though America's reproduced furniture styles were smaller in size and scale compared to English furniture and design, yet they did fit in better with the smaller rooms and low ceilings of the typical colonial homes.

All in all the early Americans tried to maintain the rectangular features of the Jacobean period furniture and design, but the results, though of a more crude character, still fulfilled the needs of the early settlers.

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