Between 1600 and 1640 the demand for fashionable furnishings and the desire to keep up with the court encouraged the growth of the trade, as furniture became more common and began to be regarded as a necessity rather than a luxury. Although comfort became a major consideration, furniture was now as important for show, as for practical use. There was a move to develop furniture types for special purposes, especially to increase comfort. The farthingale chair is one of the best-known, made to accommodate the fashionably wide skirts of the period, but at other end of the century also the tea table is a response to the social habit of tea drinking. In addition to this, houses were divided into more special purpose rooms, each demanding a particular set of furniture.
The chief characteristics of furniture in the first half of the seventeenth century include a smaller and lighter feel than the Elizabethan, with more restrained ornament.
Chairs continued to be made in massive and solid forms, but there was a demand for comfort and luxury, such as was found abroad. The result of this was the beginning of upholstery. The earliest examples were simply based on stretched coverings over a frame. This developed into the X-frame chair which was supplied with loose cushions. The farthingale chair mentioned above was often covered in Turkey work, a canvas with a knotted pile, introduced to imitate Turkish carpets. The settle was sometimes further developed into a combination piece, with the back turning into a table (called a monk's bench). In America, the chairs char acterized by turned spindles have been known as Brewster or Carver chairs, based on the possible original owners, but many chairs still relied on English models as the basis of their design.
The Elizabethan models for tables continued into the new century but with a tendency to reduce the amount of carving and the thickness of legs. Initially made from built-up sections, they were later made just from the thickness of the leg timber. Gate-leg tables, with circular, rectangular or oval tops, were developed to suit smaller family living quarters. This form of table demanded some improvement to the hinge so that the leaves could be dropped more carefully.
The development of the court cupboard and the buffet was a major feature of the Jacobean period. Both forms originated in the previous century but the later versions were noticeably less decorated and were not made with a canted upper stage (Figure 1.9). By the 1650s they were a shadow of their former glory and gradually disappeared from fashion. The development of the chest into its final form with drawers, began with the introduction of the 'mule' chest which had a single drawer in the base. It was not then a big step to introduce the drawers into the whole carcase.
During the period the range of chests, cupboards and boxes expanded and examples relate to regional styles as much as any other furniture type. In America they range from the simple six-boarded variety to more decorated panelled and carved versions. The famous Hadley and Hartford types attest to this local tradition. These sometimes have a drawer underneath the proper chest, a harbinger of a new form - the chest of drawers. The forms of court cupboards and presses in America again followed English traditions.
The Commonwealth period (1649-1660) is often seen as a severe style with little emphasis on comfort or convenience and with few new initiatives in design or production. Fashion was in abeyance during this Puritan period, which was clearly one of little ornament. However, turned work became more elaborate, as exemplified by bobbin and ball turning. During the 1640s the 'Yorkshire and Derbyshire' chairs were produced with their distinctive knob-turned front legs, and back consisting of two wide carved crescent-shaped rails. In this period, leather was no longer slung as a seat but instead used as a close covering, fitted by brass studs.
The exuberant epoch that occurred during the reign of Charles II (1660-1688) was followed by a restrained period under William and Mary (1689-1702). Nevertheless, the whole period was one of change in form, construction and decoration. There was a rise in the taste for Oriental objects, and a further increase in the desire for comfort. Pieces were scaled to fit the smaller rooms in the newer townhouses and there was generally a lighter touch to furniture designs. The period was one of success in economic and political terms and this was reflected in a demand for more and better furniture.
To satisfy this demand a number of new or improved items of furniture came into the repertoire of the furnisher. These included: clocks with long cases; easy chairs with high backs and wings (at the end of the period); chests of drawers; chests on stands; cabinets on stands; bureaux; scrutoires; card tables; daybeds; chandeliers and sconces; girandoles; looking glasses; hanging corner-cupboards; dressers.
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