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American Furniture Periods

Art Nouveau was introduced to the world at the Paris Exposition of 1900. The furniture style was not widely accepted as it did not lend itself to mass production. Towards the end of the period, designs were more streamlined and allowed for mass production.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (originally McIntosh) a well known Art Nouveau maker began his career as an architect in the Arts and Crafts movement. He and his wife Margaret Macdonald, and her sister Francis with husband Herbert MacNair were known as “The Four” and collaborated on many furniture and interior design elements. While based in Scotland, their designs were copied worldwide.

Design Element

  • Lines were long and sweeping
  • Legs were long and mostly cabriole
  • Upholstery was thin
  • Rare and expensive woods chosen for their color
  • Elaborate carvingsIntricate veneer inlays
  • Details were painted onto the piece
  • Brass and chrome hardware
  • Opulent fabrics and tapestries
  • Finish was highly polished


Here are a few examples of Art Nouveau furniture.   Click on any image to zoom in.

Art Nouveau Style Cabinet Vitrine   Art Nouveau side table   Art Nouveau chair   Art Nouveau french maiden vanity

 View Member Made Art Nouveau pieces from our Gallery >

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Arts and Crafts is one of the strongest movements in furniture. It was strongest from 1880-1920, but is still widely in production through the 20th century and beyond. The Stickley Brothers – Gustav wrote several books and published his catalog of furniture designs and , Leopold, and John George were instrumental, but did not publish under their names; Elbert Hubbard, and Frank Lloyd Wright are the major designers of the period, with form and function being the driving design guide and the furniture being in unison with the architecture of the home.

 Design Element

  • Many pieces are built-ins
  • Oak was the primary wood
  • Wood was left natural, fumed, or sometimes painted
  • Finishes tended to be natural especially shellac and wax
  • Hardware was commonly made in copper
  • Legs were straight and rarely footed
  • Inlays were of natural materials such as silver, copper, and abalone shell
  • Leather was the most used upholstery fabric

Greene and Greene (1894 to 1950)

Charles and Henry Greene were architects in Pasadena CA. Their focus was buildings but they were commissioned for furniture to fit the homes and other buildings. Their style was very Arts and Crafts as influenced by Stickley’s Craftsman magazine with emphasis on exposed structure in both buildings and furniture as influenced by Japanese architecture. Eventually the Greenes developed the “Ultimate Bungalow” home which became their signature style. The Ultimate Bungalow was a total package – building, furniture, textiles, light fixtures and decorations all designed for the specific home.

Design Elements
      • Exposed and decorated joints
      • Pegs and splines were celebrated using ebony or exposed and shaped
      • Japanese influence – weight, security, and strength emphasized
      • Waterfall legs
      • Overhanging tops
      • Sweeping lines
      • Rounded edges

Prairie School – Prairie Mission – Mission (1900 to 1920)

Developed as a subset of the Arts and Crafts movement originally by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright but included others. Using the Prairie as a design element and location, the emphasis was on long, low lines almost disappearing into the horizon as viewed from the side.

Design Elements
      • Horizontal emphasis – long and low lines
      • Complete package – building, furniture, decorations were treated as a whole
      • Heavy – providing a sense of security or substance
      • Geometric shapes with a medieval influence
      • Metal and art glass incorporated
      • Wide frames on mirrors
      • Oak

Bungalow (1910 to 1939)

Another style with its roots in architecture. It is a take-off on the Ultimate Bungalow where the footprint is smaller. It is the first design where servants quarters are not incorporated into the home. The Bungalow name is traced to Bengal India and the word is derived from from the Hindi word bangla or house in the Bengali style. This began as a cottage or second home in a more rural setting.

Design Elements
      • Dark oak
      • Exposed frame
      • Minimal decoration
      • Tapestry or leather upholstery


Here are a few examples of Arts and Crafts furniture.   Click on any image to zoom in.

markert sleigh bed   Arts and Crafts chair   Arts and Crafts limbert desk bookcase

 View Member Made Arts and Crafts pieces from our Gallery >

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Aesthetic Style argued that there need not be a useful or practical purpose to art “Art for Arts Sake" was the slogan of the time.

Design Element

  • Simple lines
  • Natural inlays, marquetry, and cloisonne
  • Decoration asymmetrical
  • Simple but bright colors of blue, green, and yellow interior colors were used to decorate the dark
  • Furniture was ebonized with gilt highlights
  • Strong Far Eastern influence
  • Prominent use of natural elements such as flowers, birds, ginkgo leaves, and peacock feathers


Here are a few examples of Aesthetic Style furniture.   Click on any image to zoom in.

Aesthetic table

 View Member Made Aesthetic Style pieces from our Gallery >

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The Victorian Period stands in sharp contrast to the Shaker style. Named for Queen Victoria, the style reflected her taste and was prominent in England, but did spread to the Americas. Re-interpreted Gothic, Tudor, and Rococo styles make identifying items as being made in the Victorian Period rather than the earlier period difficult.

There are no specific makers identified with the period, but many makers worked in the style. This is mostly due to being re-interpretations and the move to manufactured pieces.

Design Elements

  • Formal
  • Elaborate
  • “Over the top” opulance
  • Pieces were heavy and large
  • Usually made from black walnut, ash, oak, and maple with rosewood preferred for inlays
  • Brass mounts
  • Metal overlays
  • Highly carved ornamentation
  • Upholstery was ornate – often needlew

Gothic Revival (1840 – 1860)

Gothic Revival brought back the architectural design elements found in Gothic Period (12th to 16th century) such as turrets, pediments, pointed arches, and quatrefoils.

Design Elements
      • Furniture with mechanical parts
      • Etagere was born
      • Primary woods were oak and walnut with mahogany and rosewood used less.
      • Decoration was more carved than inlayed

Elizabethan style (1850 – 1920)

Elizabethan Style is considered a subset of the Victorian Period and is a revival of a 16th century style. It is also referred to as Neo-Jacobean as some motifs were revived. Some consider this style a revival of the Gothic style with design for comfort and aesthetics added.

Design Elements
      • Strap and buckles
      • Shields and heraldry in crests and chair backs
      • Cartouche
      • Scalloped shells, griffins, rosettes, cupids and mermaids give a feminine appearance to the style
      • Machined spindles
      • Chair backs are high and narrow and a slightly tilted back
      • More needlework and painted surfaces

Louis 16th (1850 – 1914)

Louis 16th is another style within the Victorian period. The later portion of the style saw even more ornamentation.

Design Elements
      • Straight line carcasses
      • Lots of applied decoration in the form of wreaths, urns, flowers, animals, etc
      • Legs are straight, tapered or fluted

Eastlake Style (1870 to 1890)

The Eastlake Style was named for Charles Locke Eastlake who wrote a very popular book “Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and other Details” in London 1872 which promoted the principle that form, function, and craftsmanship need to be equally found in design. He believed that furniture should be hand made or if machine made by workers who took immense pride in their work. He promoted designs that were easy to create, affordable, and easy to clean.

This style is considered by many to be the tail end of the Victorian Period. Architectural motifs are the Queen Anne, or more commonly called the Gingerbread style, and are very Victorian, but furniture styles are moving towards Arts and Crafts Movement philosophy of form, fit, and function. Widely accepted and popular in America by manufacturers because it was easily adapted to mass production.

 Design Element
      • Rectangular
      • Ornamented with brackets, grooves, chamfers, and geometric designs
      • Legs and chair backs were straighter
      • Decoration was incised rather than applied or hand carved
      • Woods were still dark but were native species such as oak, cherry, maple, and pine.


Here are a few examples of Victorian Period furniture.   Click on any image to zoom in.

Victorian Sideboard   porter Victorian wooton   Victorian Gothic Hall Tree   victorian furniture   Victorian Sofa

 View Member Made Victorian pieces from our Gallery >

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The Shaker Style was a distinctive American design of the “United Society of the Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing” more commonly known as the Shakers. 

Ornamentation was seen as prideful or deceitful. Their solution was to use asymmetrical drawers or other plain forms such as beaded moulding for “decoration”. Handles and drawer pulls are almost always wood.

An extensive collection can be found at Some believe this style was the inspiration for Danish and Mid-Century Modern.

Design Elements

  • Honest utilitarian simplicity
  • Minimal decoration
  • Native species of cherry, pine, or maple were used because of their self-sufficient lifestyle
  • Paint colors were typically red, blue, yellow, or green
  • Doors were flat paneled and used rail frames
  • Chairs tended to be ladder back with cane seats.


Here are a few examples of Shaker furniture.   Click on any image to zoom in.

Redlin Shaker Chairs   Shaker Blanket Chest   Nancys Shaker Nightstand   Oak Rocker   1333 Shaker Chest

 View Member Made Shaker pieces from our Gallery >

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Period Furniture Makers
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