A Brief History of American Home Furniture


Author Marilynne Robinson alludes that most Americans believe they live in an “invented nation”, as well as a “manufactured culture.” She agrees with this, but only to a certain extent. She also views America as unique, not simply a borrowed or inherited culture. Over time, America is has become a multi-cultural country and with that has created its own culture, style and traditions through its evolving history. What better way to see this, than in traditional American home furniture, unique to the country, and based on the merging of various other cultures.

When the early colonists arrived from England, they brought with them their British manners, culture, furniture and other belongings. They were essentially British and still under British rule up until the American Revolution. Until that time, American home furniture was no different than British home furniture. It was either carried across the seas or recreated in the colonies in the exact style of British furniture. At the close of the Revolution, nothing was imported. Americans, in their new nation and democratic state began to focus on their individualism as a country, including designing and manufacturing their own American style furniture.

In America’s early nation-building days, furniture was hand-wrought and hand-crafted. As the country grew, so did industry, and factories were built along with businesses. The efficiency of the factories soon replaced the need for hand-crafted work. However, the early pieces were not the finest, but it meant people did not have to rely on expensive and difficult-to-possess imported furniture from Europe.

Department stores emerged at the close of the American Civil War. Companies like Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck controlled the majority of the factories and the furniture they sold in their stores soon became standard and simplified. Across the country, a diverse people were all using similar furniture bought through the mercantile catalogs or at the brick and mortar department stores.

Tastes and trends change regularly, even today, and while the present trend in American home furniture may lean toward clean contemporary styles, there is still a love for America’s earlier hand-crafted furniture, which is now sitting in antique stores at very high prices. These traditional pieces only increase in value with each passing decade.

America has created its own culture and traditions, partly based on need after the Revolution and partly based on the merging of borrowed cultures that have helped to enrich the country’s own style. American home furniture is based on tradition and style.

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