Once you fall in love with antique furniture, nothing else quite measures up to it. There are all sorts of reproduction furniture out on the market today, and some of it is very beautiful. Some of it will even fool the casual observer. But once you have been around antique furniture for any length of time, it just has that special feel that only years and years of use can produce.
Antique Furniture Styles
Many people love a particular style of antique furniture. It might be the straight lines of Arts & Crafts furniture with famous designers like William Morris and Gustav Stickley to name just two of many. Others might like the flowing graceful lines of the Art Nouveau antique furniture. Ironically, these two styles of antique furniture were popular around the same time frame of the late 19th and very early 30th century. These were the latest styles to be included in the period of true antiques, since the accepted definition of an antique is over 100 years old. The now classic Art Deco movement will be the next major category to become antiques in the near future since it had its beginnings in the 1920s.
These classic designs not only influenced antique furniture, but also architecture, art, jewelry, clothing patterns, and many other things of the day. Some of the styles are still being produced even today. There are many furniture makers still producing fine Arts & Crafts furniture today. Some of these classic design elements will never go out of style.
But those antique furniture styles are just the two latest ones. There was the beautiful craftsmanship of the Victorian antique furniture. The Victorians could copy almost anything, so you will see many different styles of Victorian antiques. Many of these older styles were named after the monarchs of the time. Since Queen Victoria reigned so long, from 1837-1901, Victorian furniture had many years to develop. There are also many, many pieces still in existence today because it was produced for over sixty years.
When describing antiques, particularly in England, you will often hear antique furniture being described a period piece. I got several different answers when I asked exactly what was a period piece, but the most consistent response was antique furniture produced prior to 1820 which would be Regency (1812-1820) and earlier. This has become one of my favorite styles, the furniture produced during the reign of George III, 1760-1820. You can see that this was another long reign of sixty years and there is a surprising amount of Georgian furniture still around, considering its age. That speaks well for the quality of craftsmanship of this period. I wonder how much furniture being produced today will be around two hundred years from now.
There is a lot of antique furniture classified as Georgian, because there were four kings in a row named George. It started with George I, 1714-1727, George II, 1727-1760, George III, 1760-1820, and finally George IV, 1820-1830. But then to make it more confusing, furniture produced between 1812-1830 is classified as Regency. Some gave further break downs of Early Georgian, Georgian, Late Georgian, Regency, and Late Regency, but most antique dealers I knew did not use those terms. It was either Georgian or Regency. Tow of my favorite antique pieces are a oak Georgian chest of drawers and a oak Georgian bureau. There of course many other antique furniture styles. In future articles I will write more about the individual furniture styles. We could also contrast the differences in country and formal antique furniture styles. I happen to prefer the more casual country style, hence my love of Georgian oak.
Antique Furniture Woods
As many collectors of antique furniture love different styles, many also have a favorite wood. You noticed above, when I mentioned two of my favorite antique pieces, both were oak. I just love an old piece of oak antique furniture, especially Georgian oak. But others like the richness that comes from walnut or mahogany. A craftsman working with a piece of burled walnut produced some beautiful antique pieces. The same can be said for flame mahogany.
In England, pine has been popular for ages. There are whole stores devoted to pine, both antique and new. When I fist started working with pine I didn’t like it at all. We owned a refinishing shop along with our antique store. times people wanted a piece of antique pine stripped. Because pine is so soft, many times the pint would be embedded into the wood. It would also “fuzz up” after stripping and rinsing which took a lot of extra sanding. In England, because of so many doors being made of antique pine, and people wanting the many layers of paint stripped away, they have huge heated stripping tanks that will hold several doors at one time. But once antique pine is finished with hand rubbed wax, it has a wonderful warm patina. I will not go deeply into the kinds of finished people like, but most prefer either a wax or lacquer. Lacquer is much tougher and will last longer, but some prefer that look of hand rubbed wax.
There are many other woods including the elegant rosewood and the different maples. There are also the beautiful fruit woods that were so popular on many French antique furniture pieces. The list could go on and on. There were some great furniture with birdseye maple and its unique look. Sometime the manufacturers of antique furniture were limited by what was available. Others had the ability to import the finest mahoganies and rosewoods from around the world. There was so much oak furniture produced in England because oak was the wood of choice for British ships for years and years, so they grew a lot of oak trees. Similar stories could be told in other places and the wood that was available to them.
This article was not meant to be or could never be a comprehensive review of antique furniture. There are volumes and volumes of books covering this subject. I will be writing many more articles on antique furniture in the future, hope you come back and read them, on this blog, Buying and Selling Antiques.