Archive for November, 2009


One of the leading 19th century furniture makers, Duncan Phyfe was born in 1768. Duncan’s original spelling was Duncan Fife; he changed his spelling after he moved to New York City on 1792, before which he was a cabinetmaker’s apprentice in Albany at age 16. A Scottish born American designer, Phyfe’s primary design structure revolved around neoclassical design.
Phyfe produced classic individual pieces for furniture with a unique over all structure. Duncan has to his credit various styles of furniture, some of which are the double pedestal banquet tables, reeded leg sofas, window benches, central pedestal drop leaf breakfast tables, and lyre back chairs. Among motifs those credited to his name include the acanthus leave, drapery swags, diagonal cross bars, eagle wings, urn turned posts, water leaf, palm leaf, lion’s foot, dog’s foot, thunderbolts, trumpets, and rosettes. Off all the style he’s well known for, his most preferred choice of style was the lyre. Since 1922, after New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition of his work, the demand for Duncan Phyfe furniture has been on a constant rise. Experts categorize his style as a neoclassical basic that soon blended with French designing, being loyal to English Sheraton Style pattern and yet clearly dictating an Imperial style.


In the last half of the 19th Century, a reform movement spread through the United States. It changed the way many people thought about style and health in the home. People had filled their homes with large pieces of carved furniture, thick upholstery, and heavy draperies that collected dust and germs and kept out healthful air and light. The new simpler style began with an idea by a man who was an architect and arts writer, not a furniture maker. Charles Eastlake, an Englishman, wrote the book Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details.

He thought the objects in people’s homes should be attractive and well made by workers who took pride in their handwork or machine work. As the book became popular in the United States, furniture manufacturers took ideas and designs from the book and made what was named Eastlake Style furniture.Charles Locke Eastlake was the English architect and writer who suggested a home style that was cohesive whereby only a single influence dominated the furnishings of a home.

In 1872, Eastlake published his book in the United States, where it was the beginning of the American Arts & Crafts Movement. The use of rugged woods like oak and walnut and the elimination of applied decorations were characteristic of Eastlake furniture. Eastlake furniture used handcrafted joinery and he used oils rather than stains to disguise inexpensive woods as other manufacturers did. Pieces of furniture in this style had low relief carvings, incised lines, moldings, geometric ornaments, and flat surfaces that were easy to keep clean. Eastlake encouraged “honesty” in construction and finishing. Eastlake Style furniture is frequently seen in antique shops all over the United States, but especially in the east and midwest. It was manufactured by factories in the east that had branch offices in midwest cities.

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