Craftsman, Woodworker, Antiques Refinisher, Columnist, Author and Television Host
"What style is it?"
Americans have been making furniture ever since the first colonists arrived by ship more than four hundred years ago, for you can be sure they never allotted precious cargo space to four-poster beds, towering armoires, and chests of drawers. From Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts down through Roanoke, Virginia to Charleston, South Carolina, settlers immediately began building shelters and filling them with rudimentary tables, chairs, and rope-laced beds.
Over the course of the past four centuries, furniture styles have evolved, first to fill a particular need, more lately to satisfy the next generation's desire for something new, fresh, and different from their parents. While furniture historians often create sub-categories within sub-categories of categories of furniture styles, most of us are content just knowing what style we have and how old it is.
Which immediately brings up an important point. Once a style has been introduced, it never really disappears. If well-made, examples will survive even a drastic change in public taste. Instead of being hauled to the landfill, they have long been relegated to servants' quarters, young couples' first apartments, and dorm rooms. In a matter of years a once unpopular style is likely to become popular again with a new generation of home owners. And when a style becomes popular again, but difficult to find, furniture manufacturers do what they do best: they reproduce it.
Which explains why people will haul to their local version of the Antiques Roadshow what they believe to be an original Chippendale ball-and-claw arm chair, only be crushed when they learn it is a 20th century reproduction. Still a great design and often finely crafted, but just not the rare and priceless original grandma had assured them it was.
(I love the line, "Well, my grandmother had it and she lived to be ninety-three, so it must be an antique." And the response, "Well, not if she bought it new.")
Here, then, is my thumbnail list of categories of American furniture and hopefully enough information for you to determine what style you have:
Note: I am still compiling information for the categories and will include it here shortly. Thanks!
Three Important Rules: Always follow the manufacturer's directions, take all safety precautions and first test every product in an inconspicuous spot.