Technically speaking, Early American furniture design most often refers to the colonial styling of the early settlers but the definition has evolved over the centuries to include farmhouse, early Victorian, colonial and other rustic styles. However, today’s early American furniture pieces are not an exact replica of items you see in a museum but have joined the new millennium with updated forms, new modern color choices and the versatility that is so important to today’s homeowner.
Elements of Early American style furniture
There are many common elements to all of the styles mentioned above that can fall under the heading of early American design. Furniture items, including chairs, tables, trunks, chests and beds feature design elements such as:
• Clean and simple lines
• Craftsman touches such as mortise and tenon joinery, dove-tailed joints or hand-carved details
• Multi-purpose and versatile
• Solid wood construction
• Decorative carved or appliqued designs applied most commonly to drawer and door fronts or headboards
While these identifying features are common to many decorative arts styles, the homespun and rustic appeal of early American design is easily spotted.
How can I update the look of my early American home décor?
You may be asking yourself how you can update this style so your modern and active family can enjoy the look without feeling like you are living in a museum. Happily, there are many ways to update the look of early American design. For example:
• Paint. Painted furniture is so fun and fresh so apply an unexpected paint color to your early American pieces. Imagine a standard Windsor chair finished with a fun red stain to brighten up your dining room and compliment your existing dining table. Paint the back of an armoire in an unexpected contrasting color or highlight specific details such as cabriole legs or bun feet with paint.
• Updated form. Function is a key component to early American furniture pieces but that can often equate to boring. Change it up by searching for pieces that provide the needed function but in a stylish way. For example, a clothing armoire or linen cupboard in a standard shaker style of straight lines that is certainly beautiful in its simplicity is made even more beautiful with unexpected flourishes like a scalloped base or arched top. Spindles might be rounder or chair backs may be a bit larger, preserving the original feel but adding just a touch of modern “newness”. These graceful lines will not detract from the early American design but, rather, enhance and soften the overall look.
• Versatility. Armoires were designed to hang and store clothing items but you can certainly use these wonderful and versatile pieces as a free-standing pantry in a country kitchen or as a TV unit in the family room. Trunks designed to store blankets and quilts can perform double duty as a coffee table or bench and chunky dining room tables are perfect for use as a large desk in a home office or home school environment.
• Add texture and dimension. We can all appreciate the beauty of time-worn features found on an antique such as worn paint, distressed wood or an aged patina on hardware. Add these same features to your new furniture items by hand-distressing the paint finish or replacing shiny new hardware with new or repurposed hardware that features an aged and worn metal finish.
Early American, farmhouse, Victorian, shaker or colonial—whatever label you choose to give it, there is no denying that this enduring and comfortable design style is here to stay.