low ceilings in modern dwelling spaces. Standard ceiling heights nowadays range around 8 to 81/4 feet, and in such surroundings the 6- and 7-foot high breakfronts, cupboards and highboys of former days look out of proportion. They were intended for rooms with 9-12-foot ceilings.

The same horizontal line emphasis is shown in Fig. 404. Here visual interest has been added by the stepup and setback of the record-player compartment at the left and the outside leg at the

Fig. 406. The use of contrasting woods and a curved top gives this Modern piece a look of lightness and warmth. (Design by the author.)

same end. Again decorative detailing is conspicuously absent. The molding around the control panel could hardly be called decorative and the end leg, while emphasized, shows itself clearly as a structural element. The design relies entirely upon shape, proportion and wood grain for effect.

A design need not necessarily be extremely low to retain the feeling of horizontality, as evidenced by Figs. 405 and 406. In both instances a unit with a basically horizontal feeling has been raised well off the floor.

Again note the sparseness of decorative detail, but a new element has been included. In both cases additions to visual interest were attempted by variations in material or surface texture or both. In Fig. 405 the walnut case is varied by using white plastic and cloth on the front, and by the unusual base. The unit in

  1. 407. Variation in surface texture is achieved in this piece by the use of tambours on the speaker front in contrast to the smooth teak sliding doors. (Courtesy John Stuart, Inc.)
  2. 408. The rectangular form of this cabinet is softened by the use of the curved corners and by some curved lines in the leg treatment. (Design by the author.)
Fig. 406 gains variety by mixing different woods, walnut top and fronts with birch case and legs.

The design in Fig. 407 introduces variation in surface texture too. Both cabinets are teak throughout, but this material is utilized in two contrasting ways on the cabinet fronts. The speaker front has a ridged texture produced by the tambours contrasting with the flat, smooth texture of the sliding doors over the equipment section.

In the examples given thus far of Modern style cabinets, with one lone exception the outlines consist of unbroken rectangles. The unit shown in Fig. 406 has a curved top that overlaps the sides, thus breaking up the strict rectangulation of outline, but the other cabinets illustrated aim at visual interest through means other than variation of outline. This uninterrupted rectangular outline is a characteristic that, like the long low look, is by no means universal, but at the same time it is certainly extremely widespread among examples of Modern cabinet styling.

Of the objections voiced against Modern styling, a good percentage could be traced back to just this characteristic. It seems to give some people the feeling that Modern is "cold" or "harsh" or "severe," that it lacks the "warmth" of Traditional or period stylings. While this feeling may often be traceable in part to a lack of familiarity with good Modern styling, rectangles and more rectangles can be tiresome.

The cabinet shown in Fig. 408 is another attempt to break and soften rectangular lines with an overlapping top with curved corners and some curved lines in the leg treatment.

Another characteristic of Modern that is common but not universal is asymmetrical design. Fig. 409 is a strong example of this as are Figs. 404 and 408. Milder examples are Figs. 402, 405 and 410. The unit shown in Fig. 410 consists of two completely separate cabinets mounted on a single base % inch apart. The speaker enclosure is shock-mounted to the base, isolating it from the equipment cabinet on the right.

To sum up Modern cabinet styling, we find very simplified decorative detailing, strong emphasis on natural wood colors and grains, use of contrasts in materials and surface textures, frequent use of strongly horizontal shapes and the common use of asymmetry. Modern cabinetry is often raised off the floor on legs to imply a feeling of lightness and airiness. Most finishes are of the matte or satin variety with considerable emphasis on natural wood colors. Staining and bleaching are largely avoided.


Contemporary styling draws a good deal from Modern and is

Fig. 409. This Modern unit is a good example of asymmetric design. (Courtesy Cassard & Walker, Inc.)

similar in many respects. In fact the dividing line between Modern and Contemporary is sometimes rather hazy. Contemporary cabinets carry more decorative detail than Modern units, the horizontal effect is generally not as pronounced, and asymmetry in design disappears. Contemporary units will run down close to the floor on 2-4-inch bases more often than Modern ones. Variation of colors by bleaching and staining is more common, and a high

Fig. 410. Asymmetry is fairly subtle in this hi-fi unit. It consists of two separate cabinets mounted on a common base (Design by the author.)

gloss finish is frequently used. But most important, Contemporary designs always include some reference to or suggestion of a period style. At times this reference may be very subtle; at others it will be obvious to an untrained eye.

Unfortunately some "Contemporary" design is just plain bad design. It too often tries to be "all things to all men" and succeeds only in producing a rather insipid effect.

An example of good Contemporary styling is shown in Fig. 411. It would appear to be based upon neo-Classic models from the early 19th century, and has retained a kind of grace and elegance.

The cabinet in Fig. 411 was not made specifically to house hi-fi equipment, but can be adapted for this purpose. The same is true of many of the illustrations following. Very little good Traditional or period furniture is being made for hi-fi.

The wall unit in Fig. 412 is an example of good Contemporary styling. It exhibits an admirable subtlety of proportion and re-

Fig. 411. This example of Contemporary styling is based upon neo-Classic designs from, the early 19th century. (Courtesy Charak.)

straint in the use of decorative inlay. The period influence appears to be neo-Classic, probably late 18th- or early 19th century Italian.

In those whose tastes run toward more ornate styling Fig. 413 might strike a responsive chord. The design of this piece, though definitely Contemporary, is influenced by Oriental sources.

In contrast Fig. 414 is a good example of highly simplified Contemporary. This piece comes very close to the hazy borderline between Contemporary and Modern, but in the author's opinion belongs with Contemporary even though it reveals no specific period source.

Traditional and period styles

At times Traditional and specific period pieces are a bit difficult to separate too. A Traditional design will contain elements of more than one period; it will not be an authentic reproduction of any specific period. For example, it may contain elements such as the legs and curved front of Hepplewhite, fluting at the sides which looks like Sheraton, and have doors and hardware which

Fig. 412. This wall unit exhibits late 18th-century Italian neo-Classic influence. (Courtesy Grosfeld House.)

look like neither. It would be safe to say that a piece such as this is derived from late 18th century English styles, but you cannot be more specific than that—it is just Traditional.

Fig. 415, on the other hand, while simplified from the originals, would appear to be a direct descendant of Hepplewhite. So would you rather call it simplified Hepplewhite or throw it in the rather amorphous hopper labeled "Traditional"? The flat top cornice, the curve of the front and the inlay pattern of the doors are consistent. Hepplewhite would have used more surface decoration and considerably subdivided the glass doors, but this does not destroy the feeling that the piece has a specific style.

It is really a question of emphasis again—does a given piece seem to be pretty much of a specific style? If so, that is what you call it. Or does it contain period elements but is not consistent with a particular style? Then it is just Traditional.

It will take a while before you will be able readily to distinguish Traditional from the various individual period styles. To do so you will need first to become familiar with some of the period styles and their identifying characteristics. However, it is well beyond the scope of the present work to attempt anything resembling a full-scale history of furniture styles. We shall limit

Fig. 413. Oriental influences can be detected in this contemporary piece specifically designed for hi fi. (Courtesy John Stuart, Inc.)

our discussion, therefore, to general trends from approximately 1700 to 1820. This will cover most of the styles in use today, and consequently most of the ones you are likely to encounter.

At the start of this period the hereditary royalty of Europe was at the height of its pomp and power. The furniture styles of the times were developed for and around the courts of the royalty and nobility. In France, Louis XIV reigned in complete autocracy at Versailles, surrounded by furnishings that fully expressed the authority of his throne. This was a period of pageantry and show, reflected in the heavy formality of the furniture and in its profuse ornamentation. This ornamentation was based largely on curvilinear floral motifs inspired in turn by Baroque ItaKan decoration.

Furniture of this type is seldom reproduced today, but one does occasionally encounter simplified reproductions of the somewhat lighter, more sophisticated styles of Louis XV and Louis XVI. Fig. 416 is an extremely simplified version of a

Fig. 414. Although this piece exhibits no specific period source, it is nevertheless an example of Contemporary style. (Courtesy Jchn Widdicomb.)

design derived from Louis XVI models. By this time, the neo-Classic influence that was to prevail in France through the remainder of the period being discussed had already begun to make itself felt.

Although very little in the styles of Louis XIV, XV and XVI survives in reproduction at the present time, a great deal of reproduction is done in the French Provincial style that developed in the outlying districts during the early and mid-1700's.

Fig. 417 is an example based upon attempts of the bourgeoisie to imitate the court style, necessarily in simplified form. The compound curves of the cabinet tops, aprons and inset door panels as well as the reverse-curved cabriole type legs are typical of the court style from which they were derived. If you will notice particularly the curves of the lower apron and the manner in which its curves blend into those of the legs at the corners, you will not be likely to confuse this style with any other.

Although reproductions in this style are most often finished

Fig. 415. This piece, although simplified, would be considered as an example of Hepplewhite. (Courtesy Grosfeld House.)

in medium amber brown colors, the surviving originals are quite as often painted cream, tan, gray or blue-gray with painted ornamentation that is usually omitted on reproductions.

With the abrupt demise of Louis XVI and the subsequent rise of the Directory to power as a result of the popular revulsion against the excesses of the monarchy, a new style of furniture also appeared. It contrasted sharply with that of the preceding periods. A style in keeping with the mood of the times developed that exhibits a classic simplicity, dignity and restraint in ornament and decoration that is quite at variance with frivolous, dainty and slightly effeminate court styles.

With the resurgence of French influence on the Continent this style, known as Directoire, became widespread not only in France but also in Italy and Germany.

Fig. 418 shows an example of current reproductions in Directoire style based on both French and Italian models. These, like other present-day reproductions, are simplified but carry on the feeling of the original style. The emphasis on straight lines and geometric shapes, the elimination of decorative moldings

Fig. 416. This design in Provincial style is derived from the more ornate style of the contemporary French court. (Courtesy Grosfeld House.)

around the tops and the application of pilasters or fluting reminiscent of Greek columns alongside the doors are characteristic.

As the Directory evolved into the Empire, the Directoire style also evolved into the somewhat more ornate and pretentious Empire style. But although Empire style is more ornate, it retains the classical feeling of the Directoire in its basic lines and forms. Ornamentation is added in the form of inlays and ormolu rather

Fig. 417. French Provincial style developed during the early 18th century. Note the use of compound curves. (Courtesy Grosfeld House.)

than molding and carving (Fig. 419). This is a serious and somewhat self-conscious and humorless style that remains at odds with the frivolities of the earlier court styles even as Napoleon, who in large measure gave rise to it, was a serious, self-conscious and humorless man. (Another example of Empire style is shown in Fig. 420.)

Fig. 417. French Provincial style developed during the early 18th century. Note the use of compound curves. (Courtesy Grosfeld House.)

than molding and carving (Fig. 419). This is a serious and somewhat self-conscious and humorless style that remains at odds with the frivolities of the earlier court styles even as Napoleon, who in large measure gave rise to it, was a serious, self-conscious and humorless man. (Another example of Empire style is shown in Fig. 420.)

English Styles

The English styles of the period under discussion at no time reach the excesses of the French court styles, nor do they at any time revert as sharply to classical simplicity. Although English furniture does not necessarily lack gracefulness and charm, the

British in general do lack the decorative flair and sophistication of the French. The British are a stolid and serious people and their furniture, like their other arts, reflects their outlook.

The greatest English styles were developed by individual designers and are named after them. The three most important

Fig. 418. The rectangular simplicity of the Directoire style lends itself to adaptation for hi-fi purposes. (Courtesy Charak.)

were Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton, with the brothers R. 8c J. Adam running them a close fourth. These, plus the neo-Classic Regency style that followed them, constitute the important English styles for our purposes.

At the present time considerable Traditional cabinetry is being made based upon English motifs, but very little in the way of authentic reproduction is available. This would seem to be a result either of changing tastes or of mere fashion of the moment. For many years reproductions in the English styles were in great demand here, but recently the demand has shifted to French

Provincial and the neo-Classic styles. French and Italian Directoire, Empire and Beidemeier, an early to mid-19th-century style developed in Central Europe, primarily Germany and Austria, and based upon the Empire style of France.

Furniture manufacturers are rather sensitive to such changes

Fig. 419. The Empire style maintains the classic feel of the Directoire in its basic lines. (Courtesy Grosfeld House.)

in taste, making authentic English reproduction rather hard to find at the moment, but this situation is not likely to continue for long.

Chippendale was the first of our important English stylists. Actually, very little in the way of authentic Chippendale reproduction is being done today. Most of his style was rather heavy and a bit too richly carved for modern tastes. The cabriole leg with a carved ball and claw foot, richly carved aprons and imposing pediments on his high cabinets are identifying characteristics of Chippendale's style.

This heavy, ornate style is no longer being reproduced, but pieces such as Fig. 421, simplified but bearing a strong Chippendale influence, are being made.

Another style originated by Chippendale and having a strong

Oriental influence is also still alive today. Fig. 422 shows a reproduction of this Chinese Chippendale style.

Far more important than Chippendale, in terms of their continuing influence today, are the Hepplewhite and Sheraton styles. In terms of refinement of proportion, delicacy and restraint in decoration, and richness of feeling without exaggeration,

Fig. 420. Another example of Empire style. Note the typical brass ornamentation. (Courtesy Grosfeld House.)

pretension or opulence, they are unsurpassed in the history of furniture making. They somehow express perfectly a feeling of the cultured English gentleman in his best aspects.

Fig. 423 shows an example of Hepplewhite; Fig. 424 is Sheraton. Here is the finesse and sophistication of the well-bred without the smugness and self-satisfaction that are so often corollaries. The quiet richness of the inlayed decoration, delicately refined moldings, simplicity of outline and nicety of proportion are the identifying characteristics of these styles.

It is not always easy to distinguish the cabinets of these two

Fig. 421. A highly simplified version of Chippendale. (Courtesy Schmieg & Kotzian,


  1. 422. Many forms and variations of his basic ideas were produced by Chippendale. This piece shows strong Oriental influence and is aptly called Chinese Chippendale. (Courtesy Schmieg & Kotzian.)
  2. 422. Many forms and variations of his basic ideas were produced by Chippendale. This piece shows strong Oriental influence and is aptly called Chinese Chippendale. (Courtesy Schmieg & Kotzian.)

styles from each other, particularly in Modern reproductions where characteristic details may have been simplified and thus obscured. There are characteristic differences in the inlay patterns used by the two designers. Hepplewhite tended to use the oval motif in inlays more often than Sheraton, who rather preferred the rectangular. Sheraton liked somewhat more contrasting figured woods in his inlays than Hepplewhite and leaned toward more

Fig. 423. Another English style named after its originator is the Hepplewhite. (Courtesy Schmieg & Kotzian.)

elaborate pediments on his high pieces. Also, his proportioning tended to be somewhat narrower, giving his pieces more of a feeling of verticality.

The work of the brothers Adam never achieved the popularity of the preceding English designers. They were actually architects rather than furniture men and their furniture reflected a formal architectural approach that it not as livable as the others and perhaps explains why it was not as popular.

An example of their style (Fig. 425) shows this approach quite clearly. They were notable because they introduced classical

Fig. 424. Hepplewkite and Sheraton are sometimes hard to distinguish. Note the curvature of this example of Sheraton as compared with that of Fig. 423. (Courtesy Schmieg & Kotzian.)

decoration into English furniture design and also because, being architects, they thought of and designed furniture as an integral part of architecture.

The only other English style of importance to us is that of the Regency. This followed those previously mentioned and was greatly influenced by the Empire style of France. Compare Fig. 426, an example of Regency, with Fig. 424, of Sheraton. Dis regarding the shelves added on top, Fig. 426 seems to have lost some of the carefully refined grace of the Sheraton and picked up traces of the pomposity of the Empire. This is typical of Regency as compared with the Hepplewhite-Sheraton styles. Regency never approaches the heights of pretentiousness reached

Fig. 425. The Adam brothers were architects first and furniture designers second. This piece shows the introduction of Classical decoration into English furniture. (Courtesy John Scalia, Inc.)

by the Empire style, but it does reflect the neo-Classic influence that was so widely felt throughout Europe at the time.

American Styles

American furniture is for the most part not as original and distinct in style as our national pride would lead us to believe.

Through most of our history our styles have followed English ones some 10 to 20 years after they had become popular in England.

In the very early days of this country we did have a Colonial style that, while drawn largely from English prototypes, became sufficiently distinct to constitute almost an American Provincial style, although it is never called that. By about the 1720's we had become enamored with aping English styles as quickly as we could and our own Early Colonial style pretty much disappeared.

Fig. 426. The Regency style shows the neo-Ctassic influence felt throughout Europe during the Napoleonic period. (Courtesy Schmieg & Kotzian,

Fig. 426. The Regency style shows the neo-Ctassic influence felt throughout Europe during the Napoleonic period. (Courtesy Schmieg & Kotzian,

When it originated, our Early Colonial style was derived from the Jacobean English style current in the home country at the time the early colonists left. It was considerably simplified as much by necessity as by intent, and it was further altered by the functional needs of the colonists. New pieces were developed and old models altered to meet the needs of frontier living.

Fig. 427. This grouping illustrates the Early Colonial style popular in America prior to 1720: (a) sideboard; (b) a comer cupboard; (c) cupboard. (Courtesy L. & J. G.

Stickley, Inc.)

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment