When it comes to antiques, Americans are barely making the cut (especially when compared to other countries). The earliest furniture documented as having been made on these shores dates from about 1650, a mere three and a half centuries of cabinetry. Some of the most popular furniture, like those known as Art Deco or Mid-Century Modern, aren't considered antiques at all. An antique, by the definition set forth by the United States Customs Service, is something at least 100 years old or more. Younger than that is usually termed "vintage" or "collectible."
Whatever their official designation, American antiques are always collectible. It's fascinating to see how American style has evolved, from an almost slavish imitation of British pieces, as laid down in design books by cabinetmakers such as Thomas Sheraton and George Hepplewhite, to unique forms that could only happen here, by homegrown masters such as Gustav Stickley and Charles Eames.
This guide is a starting primer on quintessentially American antique furniture, furniture elements, and designers from the 17th through the 20th centuries.
American Furniture Examples
These are just some of the most well-known American furniture designs:
- Curule: This ancient style has been interpreted over and over, including examples made by American furniture crafters.
- Davenport's double meaning: Is it a sofa or a desk? Find out about two different types of davenports.
- Eames furniture: The popularity of Eames furniture has intensified during the past two decades. Learn how to identify authentic Eames furniture and what makes it so appealing to Mid-Century Modern enthusiasts.
- Fancy chair: Learn what makes this particular chair style so "fancy."
- Hitchcock chair: This guide explains who was Hitchcock and why does he have a chair named for him.
- Hutch table: This discusses a style of table dating back to the Middle Ages that also doubles as a chair.
- Windsor chair: This covers a style of chair developed in England and perfected in Colonial America.
- Wooton desk: If any desk can have it all, it's the Wooton desk. Learn more about this unique piece and the person it's named after.
American Furniture Designers and Manufacturers
There are several well-known American furniture designers and manufacturers. These are just a few:
- John Henry Belter: He is one of the great American makers of Rococo Revival style furniture.
- Charles and Ray Eames: Mid-Century Modern style is epitomized in the furniture designed by this forward-thinking couple.
- Paul Evans: He is another Mid-Century designer that has become "collectible" in the past 10 to 20 years.
- R.J. Homer: This is a Victorian-era company based in New York that made not only high-end pieces but also moderately priced furniture for the average American home.
- J.&J.W. Meeks: This furniture business satisfied customer demand for moderately priced furniture for more than 70 years.
- Gustav Stickley: Pieces crafted in Gustav Stickley's workshop are widely viewed as the best of the best in terms of Mission-style furniture.
American Furniture Periods and Styles
These styles relate to specific periods in America's history:
- American antique furniture periods and styles: Understanding furniture made in American usually makes more sense starting at the beginning.
- Centennial furniture: This type of furniture incorporates several American symbols to celebrate the first 100 years of the United States.
- Shaker style: This religious sect is known for making a specific type of extremely functional chair.
- Chippendale style and the two Queen Annes are all American Interpretations of British styles.