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The Federal Period

The time after the Revolutionary War when America was beginning a new consciousness, marked by its recently acquired independence, was called the Federal Period. American furniture makers still modeled designs from England but soon created styles with balanced proportions and symmetrical lines associated with classical design. Styles were generally named for the monarchs who reigned or for the design influences that prevailed at the time the style was introduced.

There was usually a time lag before the tyle became popular in America because much of Americas colonial population lived in rural areas where tradition was important and fashions changed slowly. A new style might be introduced in Boston at the same time an old style was still popular in the country. The architectural designs emphasized high ceilings and large open areas which allowed for more decorative elements. A federal period parlor would typically have been decorated with the classically inspired wallpaper and moldings, swag curtains, and a carpet that resembled a Roman tiled floor.

The use of decorative cotton dimity or chintz slipcovers were to protect the wool upholstery from insects and sun during the summer. Furniture from this period is characterized by a delicate, geometric look and the use of classical motifs as urns and swags. Inlay, veneer, carving, and paint are used for decoration. Chairs have turned, reeded or tapered legs and square or shield shaped backs. The names of two English designers, Thomas Sheraton and George Hepplewhite are closely associated with these styles.

One of the most popular designs was the Windsor hair which was used in every room of the house by the Federal Period. Many of the popular styles are shown on the page attached to this report. A lot of the furniture was made out of native black walnut, yellow pine, white oak, maple rose and satinwood. To lower the cost of the furniture the designers painted surfaces to simulate a rich wood or marble or gilded to imitate bronze mounts. The most popular kind of wood was the mahogany which made richer and more figured cuts.

Mahogany wood made desks, sewing tables, Pembroke tables, sideboards, shield, oval and quare-back chairs. The Federal Period signaled the change from the master craftsmen, to the mass production of furniture. Styles became simpler with less ornamentation in order to make them easier to produce in volume. Since the demand for more furniture needed to be met, American furniture makers made more pieces of the same style to order to work quicker. As Americans became more prosperous they wanted furniture that was not only useful but also decorative. The Federal Period was a time of great change.

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