Furniture Periods and Styles William and Mary, 1690-1725

The William and Mary style, named for the English king and queen who reigned jointly from 1689 to 1694, marked several important advancements in furniture design. First, a variety of new forms evolved from what had been a fairly static selection, and second, furniture forms began to display the graceful, elegant lines that were to dominate over the next two centuries.

The William and Mary period in America lasted from about 1690 through 1725. The style reflected the love for baroque design that had swept the European continent in the early 1600’s, and the decorative motifs (scrolls, spirals, columns) hinted at a further refining of the classical influences that had characterized the preceding Jacobean period.

Perhaps the most important development of the William and Mary period was the emergence of the «cabinetmaker.» Up to that time furniture making was divided between two separate and distinct classes of craftsmen: the turners and the joiners. Now, for the first time, a single craftsman controlled the design and construction of a piece from beginning to end. While turners and joiners had been relegated to the lower end of the social ladder, the cabinetmaker became an important and respected individual in the colonial community. It was this new social attitude, both in England and the colonies, that was to open the way for the great cabinetmakers Sheridan, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Duncan Phyffe to gain widespread acceptance, respect, and appeal.

Several other noteworthy influences had an impact on the William and Mary period. The quest for colonization by the great powers had brought expansion of trade. With this trade came a variety of ideas, especially from the Far East, that were to significantly alter furniture design and methods of finishing. One of these changes was the introduction of the oriental practice of lacquering. A 1688 English publication, Treatise of Japanning and Garnishing, offered instructions on how to imitate the oriental lacquer finish with western varnishes, The secrets of the laborious oriental technique were greatly simplified, and the process was immensely popular and widely copied in urban centers such as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York.


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