A Short History of Federal-Style Furniture

A Short History of Federal-Style Furniture

The Oval Office is the most recognizable room on the planet, immortalized in film, television shows, and the evening news.

If you close your eyes, you can probably imagine a near-perfect recreation of it. Whether you realize it or not, a crucial detail you think of is the Oval Office's iconic Federal-style furniture.

The Federal style is a lasting symbol of refinement and elegance in American culture. It exudes prestige and authority. And it has a history as esteemed as its artistry and craftsmanship.

To honor these works of art, let's look at the origins of Federal furniture, its defining traits, and some notable examples.

Origins of the Federal Style

This school of design takes its name from the Federalist Era in American history. If you've seen Hamilton, you'll no doubt be familiar. It was a time of deep political divides, as lampooned in this contemporary cartoon.

But you wouldn't guess as much from these furnishings' stately appearance. They exude a dignity that the founding fathers would no doubt have preferred our young nation be associated with.

You can attribute that to the Federal style's roots in France. During the reign of Louis XVI, the neoclassical style became the trend du jour. This was a reaction against the prior rococo style, eschewing its excesses in favor of classical influences.

American designers took inspiration from this updated French perspective on classical antiquity. They further refined and streamlined the style to produce works of understated beauty.

Characteristics of Federal-Style Furniture

One of the most notable features of Federal-style furniture is its use of mahogany and similar imported woods.

This fine material was common in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War, imported from the nearby West Indies. Artisans still prize mahogany for its durability, strength, and color, making it an ideal furniture material.

The use of geometric shapes also characterizes Federal-style furniture. These include bold square and rectangular forms, complimented by delicate curves and lines. These evoke the designs of Greek antiquity.

Chair backs may be shaped to resemble Greek shield designs, for example. Dining tables might feature oval tops with tapered legs.

Symmetry and balance were crucial elements in Federal-style furniture, as well. Matching sets of chairs, tables, and sideboards were popular choices.

Notable Pieces of Federalist Furniture

Federalist furniture has sturdy materials and masterful craftsmanship. So many authentic pieces survive today.

One recognizable example is the Oval Office Grandfather Clock.

This masterwork was manufactured by John and Thomas Seymour of Boston circa 1795-1805. Acquired in 1972, it was displayed in the Oval Office three years later. It has stood ever since as one of the most distinguished pieces in the White House collection.

The Green Room at the White House is another excellent example. While the room served many purposes over the years, many Federalist furnishings have remained in their current places since the 19th century.

Using This Iconic Style in Your Home

Federal-style furniture can lend your home an air of luxury that's, at the same time, dignified and tasteful. It's a balancing act that not all types of antique furniture can manage.

It's a style currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity as well. To see some examples of these timeless designs you can use in your home, check out our wide and varied selection of Federal-style lighting and furniture.

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