Leg styles are key not only to the appearance and functionality of pieces, but they can also be used to successfully identify many types of antique furniture. Furniture legs can provide clues to when a piece was manufactured, especially when considering how they are used in conjunction with foot styles.
Listed below are a number of different examples of leg styles developed in both Europe and the United States from the Renaissance period to the Empire period. Links within each description lead to... more information on styles, periods, and types of antique furniture.
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Cabriole refers to a popular furniture leg with the knee curving outward and the ankle curving inward terminating in an ornamental foot. It is commonly associated with period Queen Anne and Chippendale styles of antique furniture along with and many reproduction pieces that combine various styles.
When used with Chippendale furniture, the cabriole leg commonly terminates with a ball and claw foot. In Queen Anne examples, the pad foot was popular, but other foot styles were used with these legs as... well.
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Flemish Scroll Leg
This style of carved furniture leg is characterized by scrolls at the top and the bottom, often spiraling in opposite directions. It was developed in the second half of the 17th century, and is featured in late Baroque furniture styles such as Restoration and William and Mary. It was also used in the work of Gerrit Jensen, who designed pieces for King Charles II.
These are also referenced as double scroll legs, and S-scroll leg (a variation: when the section between the scrolls is curved).
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In this type of furniture leg a series of rounded channels or grooves are carved vertically into a straight leg at regular intervals. The fluted leg was modeled after ancient Greek columns, and it flourished in the Neoclassical styles of the second half of the 18th century such as Hepplewhite along with 19th-century Classical Revival styles.
It is similar to a reeded leg, except that fluted channels are concave (vs. convex or raised). See below for reeded leg example.
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This is a straight, square, substantial furniture leg that is usually plain, but sometimes has fluted carving. The Marlborough leg typically terminates in a block foot, though can be footless as well. Some versions are slightly tapered.
These legs are typical of mid-18th century English and American furniture and are often featured in later Chippendale styles, especially chairs, tables (as shown here), sofas and bedsteads.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
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This type of furniture leg, in which a series of rounded ridges or grooves are carved vertically at regular intervals are modeled after ancient Greek and Roman motifs. They flourished in the later Neoclassical, Regency and Empire styles that developed around the turn of the 19th century. The reeded leg is often seen in Sheraton designs. These are similar to fluted legs (see above), except that the reeds are convex (as opposed to concave).
The popularity of reeded legs surpassed those of fluted... legs as the 18th century gave way to the 19th century.
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The saber style is a type of splayed furniture leg flaring out in a concave shape like a saber or curved sword. It can be round or squared, and often gradually tapers. These are usually found on a chair, stool or sofa.
Dating from Antiquity - examples have been found on Greek klismos chairs - it underwent a revival among late 18th-century designers such as Sheraton, and flourished in Regency and Empire furniture. They are sometimes referenced as sabre legs or splayed legs as well.
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Spider legs are delicate, thin curved legs, usually extending below a round table top in a group of three or four. They typically end in spade feet or no feet (as shown here). Found on many late 18th-century and early 19th-century candlestands, tea tables, and other light, portable pieces.
Spider legs can also be slim, straight legs found on gatefold tables. The thin supports enabling swinging out to expand the table easily. This variation dates from the early 18th century and often ends in pad... feet. Both types of spider legs remain enduringly popular to the present
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This extremely old style of furniture leg resembles a twisted rope. It is thought to have originated in India, and the style traveled westward across Europe in the mid-17th century to Portugal, Holland and then England, where it flourished from around 1660 to about 1703.
These legs are especially characteristic of Restoration and William and Mary furniture, but they enjoyed a comeback 100 years later in late Empire and Federal pieces. It was revived yet again in the mid-19th century and used on... many Victorian furniture pieces. Sprial legs are sometimes referenced as spiral-twist or barley-twist (especially in England).Continue to 9 of 9 below.
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This is a type of turned furniture leg, fairly thick with multiple curves, which flares upward and outward from a narrow base to actually resemble an upturned trumpet. The top is often capped with a dome, and the end often terminates in a ball foot, bun foot or Spanish foot.
It is typical of Baroque styles, especially English Restoration and William and Mary, and usually appears in accent tables, highboys and lowboys with the legs connected by a serpentine stretcher. These are also known... as trumpet-turned legs.
Related articles for further furniture learning:
Know Your American Antique and Collectible Furniture - An overview of furniture styles and periods made in the United States including desks, tables, and chairs, along with information on a number of American designers.
Know Your English Furniture - An overview of British antique furniture including several styles of desks, tables, and chairs.
A Primer on Fine American Antique Furniture - More on early American furniture, including the major periods and characteristics that propel a piece to masterpiece status.