Here we've done our best to catalog the various periods and styles of American furniture and set them on a timeline, below.  Our timeline is broken into pre and post Industrial Revolution.  Examples are provided as well as links to pieces built by our members as presented in the SAPFM Members Gallery.

Fine furniture has been made throughout all periods in American history and in all styles. Because a piece is categorized in a post-Industrial Revolution period does not imply that it was factory made or that its construction or aesthetics is somehow inferior to earlier periods.

As an organization, SAPFM has focused much of its efforts on pre-Industrial Revolution furniture.   That is not to say that our members are not interested in contemporary styles that emerged in the 20th century.  Several pieces in the Member Gallery, articles found in our publications, and even a Cartouche Award recipient reflects this.

Periods and Styles

There is a clear distinction between periods and styles.  Periods refer to a length of time during which furniture was built.  Styles refer to a particular form or design elements used in the making of the piece.  

Periods are somewhat fluid bands of time where a particular set of characteristics or elements were popular. Styles are created by makers to highlight the characteristics in vogue and design elements incorporated in their work. Periods do not have hard start or finish dates and styles show evolution as tastes changed. Makers, if they wanted to stay in business, would cross periods and styles as their clients' tastes changed. Just because a period or a style evolved into a new one, the durable goods bought with good money were held onto further blurring the beginning and ending dates of a period or style.

One thing is certain, no style or period is strictly limited to a single country. England, France, Germany, and Italy, all influenced each other and those were all influenced by the Greeks and Romans from ages gone by.  In turn, America's influence was carried back to the “old country”. The Periods and Styles listed below cross countries just as the creators or texts from the creators crossed.

Authors do not agree on time-frames, if it is a period, a style, or a maker, even what to call the period or style. Many Periods were identified decades if not a century later by authorities and collectors looking back at the body of work created by makers in a given time period. Many period beginning dates are set by the earliest known piece identified by a specific maker or with a set of characteristics.

Pre-Industrial Revolution Timeline

1640 – 1700
Colonial – Pilgrim – Early American

Early American School DeskThe first furniture built in America during the earliest days of settlement.

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1680 – 1725
Colonial Period | William and Mary style

William and Mary TableInfluence from England and the Baroque styles in France and Italy.

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1720 - 1760
Colonial Period | Queen Anne style

QueenAnne ChairThe Queen Anne style is lighter, more graceful, and smaller than its predecessors.

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1750 - 1795
Colonial Period | Chippendale style

Chippendale chestBoth a style and a maker with comfort, proportion, and aesthetics being the focus.

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1720 – 1830
Pennsylvania Dutch

Pennsylvania Dutch ChestThe Pennsylvania Dutch style was predominant in the German settlements in Pennsylvania.

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1780 – 1820
Federal Period

Seymour Tambour DeskThe Federal Period is the first truly American style of furniture.  Includes: Sheraton, Hepplewhite, Goddard and Townsend, and Seymore styles.

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1800 – 1840
American Empire

American Empire SofaThe American Empire or Classical style featured C and S curved arms, and legs with highly carved lion’s paw.

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1820 – 1860
Shaker style

Shaker ChestShaker style was a distinctive American design of the “United Society of the Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing” more commonly known as the Shakers.

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The Industrial Revolution

The industrial revolution drastically altered furniture making. Beginning in 1760’s but not reaching wide acceptance until the 1820’s to 1840’s the use of machines replaced hand work in all areas. Slower to reach the furniture industry, starting in the 1860’s technology allowed furniture to be mass produced.

Post-Industrial Revolution Timeline

1830 – 1915

Victorian TableRevival of many furniture styles using mass manufacturing processes.

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1845 -1870
Rococo Revival

Victorian TableReferred to as the Naturalist Style.  Advances in technology allowed for finer and more intricate carvings and laminated wood was introduced.

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1860 – 1895
Aesthetic style

17 Aesthetic Style Table 100x105Aesthetic Style argued that there need not be a useful or practical purpose to art.

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1880 – 1920
Arts and Crafts

Arts Crafts Morris ChairOne of the strongest movements in furniture, was an attempt to put the heart back into the making of furniture.

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1895 – 1920
Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau TableIntroduced at the Paris Exhibition, the style was not widely accepted because it did not lend itself to easy manufacture.

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1920 – 1950
Art Decorative (Deco)

Art Deco ChairArt Deco with crisp lines and controlled curves was more accepted than Art Nouveau.

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1950 – 1970
Mid-Century Modern or Modern

Modern Chair Incorporation of plastics, molded laminates, and aluminum; the manufacturing process allowed for single unit furniture pieces.

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1879 to Present
Post Modern/Studio Furniture

Studio CabinetStudio Furniture is defined as one-of-a-kind or limited production of furniture objects designed and built by craftspeople.

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