Antique Furniture Styles

What is period furniture?  Is it a good thing?  Absolutely!  Antique furniture comes from different time periods throughout the years.  If a piece of furniture was made in that time period and has the style of that time period, it’s called period furniture and that’s where the value is when it comes to antique furniture.

Antique furniture can be an integral part of a decorating project. Depending on the time period's style, the furniture can even fit well in modern decorated homes as well. If you plan on using antique furniture in your home, you need to know the difference between period furniture and furniture in the style of….

Period antique furniture was made from the 1600’s through the 1900’s – also referred to as 17th Century through the 19th Century.


Jacobean (1600-1690)

Most Jacobean pieces found are actually from the early 20th Century and not from the 17th Century, so be careful.  This is a dark almost medieval style with heavy carvings in an English Style.

Colonial (1640-1700)

Colonial furniture is basic furniture pieces made from locally found wood and usually modeled after English and other European furniture styles, since the Early American settlers didn’t know any differently.

William and Mary (1690-1725)

Named after William and Mary of England, oriental and Dutch influences creep into furniture styles. While there are some period William and Mary pieces available, many are made up of married pieces – which are parts of different furniture pieces, married through the years to make the piece whole again.  If you know the pieces don’t belong together, that’s one thing, but if it’s done deceitfully, that can impact the value and be a detraction.

Queen Anne (1700-1755)

Named after Queen Anne of England, it’s still one of the most reproduced styles of the modern era.  It’s most recognizable characteristic is the graceful curved cabriole leg with a pad foot.  The chairs also have backs that are shaped like a fiddle and called appropriately, fiddle-back.  Most pieces of Queen Anne furniture today are actually Queen Anne style, not of the period.  If it is a period Queen Anne piece of furniture, is it English or American?  There’s a huge difference in value.

Chippendale (1750-1790)

Chippendale style is another heavily reproduced style and it is more elaborate than the Queen Anne style, with the same sweeping cabriole leg, but more pronounced, and the pad foot now a more ornate claw foot.

Hepplewhite (1765-1800)

The Hepplewhite style is more delicate than the curves of the Chippendale and Queen Anne styles.  The legs are straight and tapered and the decoration doesn’t come so much from the shapes, but from inlay.

Federal (1780-1820)

The Federal period relies on neoclassical characteristics, simple ornamentation and balance and symmetry.  Period pieces have graceful straight lines, tapered legs and inlay, and are heavily sought after by collectors and decorators alike.  Pieces are available from the period, but more affordable in reproductions.

American Empire (1800-1840)

Empire furniture is dark and heavy without much ornamentation.  Period pieces are fairly available in the market, as they can overpower a room.  An empire sideboard, chair or dresser is a welcome addition to décor, if the room can handle it.

Victorian (1840-1910)

Victorian period furniture was the first furniture to be mass produced, so it is more readily available and affordable for those looking for period pieces.  It ' usually dark in finish with heavy, gothic forms and elaborate carvings and ornamentation.  Parlor chairs, dining chairs,and  tables – particularly side tables – can take on the formality of any room.  More readily available and casual are the golden oak pieces – round tables and sideboards can take on more casual décor.

Arts and Craft (1880-1910)

Arts and Crafts furniture is a drastic turn from the Victorian period.  It’s characterized by simple utilitarian design and focuses on the construction of the piece.  It’s also referred to as Mission style, and is readily available and often reproduced.

As you can see, period furniture is complicated.  This is the brief rundown on American furniture periods, but complicating matters are periods and styles in Europe and overlapping periods.  Bottom line, before buying antique furniture - do your research and buy from a reputable dealer or auction house.  One question to ask is – it a period piece?  Just because it says Victorian, doesn’t mean it’s from the Victorian period, it could just be Victorian style.