The first half of the century saw the culmination of the 'age of oak'. Conservative attitudes to design and change resulted from the unsettled political situation. By the mid-century there was a diminution in the influence of architecture which gave cabinetmakers the opportunity to develop decorative techniques of their own, without being tied by the strict constraints of classical detailing and architectural features. The influence of styles and techniques based on the original homes of immigrants to North America meant that particular traditions were taken across the Atlantic and established in localities that continued these ways of designing and working.
Without a doubt the most momentous change in this latter part of the seventeenth century was the need to introduce new methods of construction. These were required so that the new fashions from the Continent could be supplied by English makers. The introduction of veneering, using walnut, hastened the transition from oak panelled and joined construction to bring the true cabinetmaker to the forefront of the trade.
Joined chairs remained important and backstools or armless chairs were an innovation. By the Restoration, twist turning had become a typical feature of the period, and the tall-backed walnut chairs with caned seats and back panels are easily recognizable (Figure 1.10). Constructionally they were not always sound, since in many cases, seat-rails were simply placed on top of the legs and dowelled instead of being tenoned in between. However, the introduction of the splayed back leg does show some consideration for the possibility of overbalancing. The double-scroll Flemish leg changed to a Dutch bandy-leg which gradually led to the cabriole shape. By the 1690s an inverted cup and trumpet were used for legs on tables, tallboys and cabinets. These leg shapes are illustrated in Figure 1.11. Castors, using leather or wood rollers, were
Figure 1.10 High-backed cane chair, English, c.1680—1700. Usually executed in walnut, or painted or stained beech
Figure 1.11 Leg shape comparison: (a) double scroll leg, c.1675; (b) S-scroll or 'bandy' leg, c.1690; (c) cup and trumpet leg, c. 1690; (d) cabriole leg, early eighteenth century
Figure 1.10 High-backed cane chair, English, c.1680—1700. Usually executed in walnut, or painted or stained beech introduced around 1690. Daybeds or couches, with six legs, had cane and carved or turned wood decoration to match the chairs. Setteebacks were divided to resemble chairs joined together, and in dining chairs drop-in seats and the stuff-over method were both used.
Tudor storage forms continued with some modification until the Restoration when the court cupboard was abandoned in favour of the cabinet-on-stand, with either a twist-turned or scroll-legged base. Chests became the dominant furniture item in many rooms but dressers, cupboards, china cabinets, writing desks and bureaux, and bookcases were all made to meet the particular requirements of the time. Bookcases, some with hooded pediments and most with nailed shelf-bearers,
Figure 1.11 Leg shape comparison: (a) double scroll leg, c.1675; (b) S-scroll or 'bandy' leg, c.1690; (c) cup and trumpet leg, c. 1690; (d) cabriole leg, early eighteenth century became popular: the first one recorded was made for Samuel Pepys. By 1670, small handmade brass screws, which were tapered and slotted, had begun to be used for hinge fixing in place of nails. In America one particular form of storage developed which clearly shows the influence of a European homeland. The 'kas' was based on original models from the Low Countries, particularly Holland, where a painted finish tradition was also borrowed.
With the increase in business, letter writing and the spread of literature, the need for specialist furniture again became evident. Bureaux were first made in two halves and later the sides were of one piece. They are distinguished by the panelled doors which were sometimes fitted with mirrors. Writing tables were often designed with recesses for knees and were usually made with cabriole legs and apron pieces. The secretaire is made so that the whole of the front drops down to form a writing top, with the interior invariably fitted out with various pigeonholes and cupboards. The decoration was often in the form of marquetry but in some of the bigger items the veneers were not large enough to cover in one piece, so the quartering technique was devised which turned a necessity into a decorative practice.
The large panel size also caused difficulties with the fall front groundwork. The drop-flaps were often made with the grain of the main panel(s) running horizontally and the sides fixed with frames in a vertical manner. This led to differential movement and resulted in cracked veneers.
China cabinets were another example of objects designed to meet specific needs. The collecting of Oriental chinaware and 'curiosities' was very popular in the later seventeenth century and it was a matter of course that a display case was required which included glazed doors. The subdivision of doors by small glazing bars appears to have been necessary, due to the size of the glass panes, but it was so successful, decoratively, that it remained popular even when the glass was big enough to fill the space in one piece.
Beds became very tall and exuberant, surmounted by testers with all the woodwork covered with fabric. Beds are good examples of changing taste, for whilst at the beginning of the century they would have been proudly carved, they were now hung with expensive fabrics, being demonstrations of the upholsterer's art rather than the carver's.
Mirrors and picture frames were considered essential to a stylish interior, but mirror glass was still expensive and only made in small panes. Nevertheless, freestanding and wall-mounted mirrors were extremely popular by the end of the century. Lime-wood carving in naturalistic forms is associated with the last part of the century and particularly with Grinling Gibbons. It is his style rather than his artefacts that are memorable though.
Tables with space-saving attributes were made including those with gate-leg mechanisms, butterfly tables and even chair-tables.
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