English Antique Furniture
If you are a fan of antique furniture you will already know many of the simple characteristics that separate antique furniture from contemporary furniture. What we will do here is discuss a little bit of how these characteristics and trends came about so we can put them in a little historical context. Part of the joy of a beautiful piece of truly authentic English antique furniture comes from having a tangible connection to history in your home. Understanding what that history is, only increases the enjoyment of ownership.
The oldest furnishings that can usually be found for sale at an antique shop or online are 16th century or Elizabethan era furniture. This furniture comes from a time of great hardship and conflict in English History, but also a time when England emerged as a European superpower. As a result, the furniture made during that time tends to follow function over form. Almost all Elizabethan era English antique furniture is made from oak wood. This makes it very durable, and very heavy. The ornamentation is usually simple and featured nobs and bulbs rather than delicate engravings.
Beds from this period tend to be solid, heavy four poster beds with a strong canopy and heavy drapes due to the draftiness of home design of the period. This allows for a great deal of decoration and ornamentation added through the linen and bed clothes. This is also found in the chairs of the period where the simple and sturdy woodwork is counterbalanced by rich and ornamented cloth padding. Even if you are not looking for actual antiques, Elizabethan style furniture is a great choice for any home looking for a classical, but serviceable decor.
The second major period in English antique furniture, begins in the late 17th century with the rise of the French King Louis the 14th. His famously extravagant court spawned an increasing trend towards ornate and elaborate furnishings that featured detailed engravings, curved s shaped chair and cabinet legs, gilded mounts and the addition of beautiful moldings to increasingly ornament flat edges and corners. This style was adopted in England as well and can be best summarized by the popular Queen Anne style chair.
The Queen Anne chair was a smaller piece of furniture with strong curving lines and thick comfortable upholstery. These pieces are also usually well engraved with floral patterns or flourishes. They can be made from any number of common English woods and tend to be less durable than Elizabethan styles or contemporary furniture.
One very easy way to tell a later copy from an original antique is the type of wood. Finer wood types like teak, mahogany, walnut and cherry were not in common use until the late 18th and early 19th century as the availability of imported timber reached the general public. This can be considered a downside to the antique piece as these new wood types posses many beautiful qualities and can be crafted to a higher standard than the traditional English Oak. It could be said, however, that if it were not for the unusual durability of Oak, we would not have anywhere near the number of surviving pieces from the period.
For those searching for furniture that blends the aesthetics of antique styling with the benefits of more modern wood types, 19th century furniture is the way to go. This trend of recreating classical styles using more elaborate wood, carvings, varnishes and gilding’s was very common in the late 19th century as the growing English middle class sought to emulate the grace and style of the historic English gentry. These items can be the most difficult to place when you are hunting since they present such a wild blending of styles, materials and techniques. Still 19th century English antique furniture allows you to have the joy of a wonderful piece of history while still allowing you the ability to select the style and material that you like best.