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Pennsylvania Dutch Furniture

Updated on January 10, 2018

When speaking of Pennsylvania Dutch furniture, it is often assumed one is speaking of furniture made by the Dutch, but it is actually German immigrants who styled what became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch style. This is a common misconception due to the term Deutch being mistranslated. Deutch, in this case, is the German word for German. So it was the Germans who brought this sturdy, simplistic style, between 1720 and 1830, to Pennsylvania. Penn Dutch furniture is, as stated above, built in a simplistic manner but also most commonly ends up being painted in colorful Amish-folk style to cover the wood grain, or sometimes waxed or stained to bring out the natural beauty of the wood grain.

The Penn Dutch furniture is typically built in a simple and contemporary style, while it can be found painted folksy and colorful in décor, it is still considered a humble design. Some of the woods typically used in this style of furniture are black walnut, oak, tulipwood, and pine. Most of these woods are carved in a simplistic fashion with straight lines and a simple design which in most cases doesn’t include a lot of intricacies, although there are exceptions. The woods are carved and then pieced together using either a dovetail joint or a mortise and tenon joint, which is fitting two boards together structuring a hole for the other board to rest in. Notice that no nails are used in putting the furniture together. After the furniture is assembled and found to be sturdy and of the highest quality it is then ornamented with the typical Amish folk-style and colorful paintings.

The basics of this Germanic influenced style of furniture has been discussed now let’s move on to styles of particular furniture. To begin, let’s discuss what a finished chair might look like in the Pennsylvania Dutch style. The typical chair will have simply turned and straight or straight and flat arms. The backs of the chair are wooden with a ladder back or slat back style. Sometimes the backs will be styled with a solid panel back as well. The typical leg design can be straight, tapered, or simply turned. Now last, but certainly the most important, the seat which is most always designed in a square shape covered with an animal hide leather.

Another wonderfully designed and ruggedly sturdy piece of Pennsylvania Dutch-style furniture, is the table. The Germanic influence you would expect to see in the table’s design are apparent, but there are many similarities that show early American or colonial influences as well. On a Pennsylvania Dutch-style table you can expect to see the aforementioned early American influences at the feet of the table. Such styles include the ball foot, the bun foot, a simple rounded wooden foot, or a continuation of the leg with no change in the line. Many tables will be S-curved while the others will be straight line. A wonderful fact to consider is that the huge walnut sawbuck dining tables were unique to Pennsylvania and were carved and fashioned by the settlers of the Pennsylvania Dutch community.

Another take on a great piece of furniture which, when built by the Pennsylvania Dutch, carries the Germanic influence but also includes a few more intricacies than you would see on a table or chair. This piece of furniture is the hope chest. It can be a wonderful keepsake, in many families, that is passed down from one generation to another. The Pennsylvania Dutch interpretations were generally painted light blue with painted accents including tulips, stars, birds, and unicorns.

As we have seen there are some wonderful pieces of furniture built in Pennsylvania Dutch fashion. What seems to make this style of furniture such a delight to see or own is not the style in which it’s built, it is the quality, sturdiness, and intricate craftsmanship with which it is built. The styles may seem simplistic but quality workmanship like this is something that is sought after in our day and age but is rarely found and when it is we must cherish it.

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