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- What is Sheraton Furniture?
What is Sheraton Furniture?
Sheraton style furniture saw its prime during the United States Federal period from 1790 to 1820. However, its charming design still occupies space in the homes of antique lovers and furniture connoisseurs today. Though few original pieces survived to the twenty-first century, reproduction furniture is produced to preserve the beauty of the style and allow the simplistically elegant designs to live on despite their antiquated origins. The designs and ideas that built this furniture style influenced later furniture makers, including John and Thomas Seymour, Duncan Phyfe, and Samuel McIntire. Because of its popularity and considerable influence, elements of the famous style can be found in generations of furniture designs.
With roots in the small town of Stockton-on-Tees, England, cabinetmaker Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806) is the namesake and original designer of this beloved furniture style. Though his early education was limited, the talented artist exceeded expectations and eventually became one of the top furniture designers of his time. His passion for drawing and geometry as a child allowed him to develop one of the most influential furniture styles of the nineteenth century.
His career took off in 1791 when he published his book in four volumes called, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book, which critiqued popular furniture styles and outlined new and improved furniture designs. Because the book incorporated new concepts and what some may consider “trademark designs,” Sheraton became a leading figure in the furniture design industry. In the last twenty years of his life, the talented artist spent his career designing and teaching rather than physically producing furniture. The widespread distribution of his specialized knowledge through teaching led to an entire furniture design movement.
Often overlapping the work of British designer George Hepplewhite (1727-1786), Sheraton’s initial focus was the documentation of the most popular modern furniture designs. Throughout his career, designs became simpler, straying from the ornate and intricate styles that dominated the furniture world early in the eighteenth century. These new drawings were adaptations of previously complex designs based on classical architecture. The style’s designs exemplified Neoclassical furniture, which rejects the elaborate appearance of previous styles. Neoclassical designs utilized the artist’s passion for geometry and mathematics based on the revival of Greek and Roman aesthetics.
Each elegant furniture design was constructed with solid wood, primarily mahogany, beech, satinwood, and sycamore. Unlike the American Empire style that followed in the early 1800s and incorporated animal motifs, Sheraton furniture included motifs such as flowers, feathers, lyres, fans, drapery swags, and ribbons. Low-relief carvings or painted designs sharply contrasted with the finish of the wood. Contrasting veneers and inlays characterize this furniture’s unique style, and unlike most popular styles at the time, it was common for a piece to contain more than one type of wood.
This style embodies design fluidity, characterized by square and rectangular geometric shapes. Though the shapes are sharp and well structured, they flow nicely into fabrics to create an elegant outline without abrupt design disruption. The arms of sofas and armchairs flowed cleanly to the square or rectangular back without a noticeable break. Square-backed sofas with flowing arms and reeded legs serve as an archetype for the style. Furniture from this era often leaves the frame exposed in chairs and sofas rather than covering it with upholstery like many other Neoclassical furniture designers. Contrasting woods and well-proportioned geometric shapes were new design elements that intrigued consumers and catapulted Sheraton to the top of the industry.
Instead of cabriole legs that characterized earlier styles like Chippendale and Queen Anne, furniture of this style typically utilized straight legs with occasional tapering. Unlike many of his contemporaries, the designer preferred rounded legs with reeded edges to imitate classical columns. The furniture legs tend to be thinner, which makes the piece appear visually lighter and more elegantly simplistic. Complementing the straight legs on most furniture, the feet are unembellished and typically consist of a tapered arrow foot, a rectangular spade foot, or a cylindrical foot. Our Sheraton Sideboard is a perfect example of an authentic reproduction made of solid mahogany wood with thin legs and rectangular spade feet.
Often described as delicate, this style is light, elegant, and uncomplicated compared to earlier furniture eras. Some pieces are fully painted or dyed, but most maintain the authentic beauty of their solid wood structure. The low-relief carvings, painted designs, and intricate and contrasting wood veneers are tasteful embellishments of each piece. Though some carvings may seem random and uncalculated, many motifs and symbols in the furniture reflect popular human values. Case pieces featured symbolic hardware, including lion’s heads representing courage, strength, and excellence. They also featured rosettes, which represent divine protection, and urns which symbolize beauty.
Another groundbreaking design element accredited to the original designer was the placement of gathered fabric, typically silk, behind glass doors of cabinets, bookcases, and other furniture. It is common for furniture from this era to contain hidden drawers for sliding sections on certain work surfaces like tables and desks.
Sheraton studied and valued trends worldwide and frequently incorporated European and Asian design elements into his work. The very nature of Neoclassical furniture has roots in Greek and Roman aesthetics. Greek and Roman ideas were combined with trends from China and France to cultivate brand-new designs compiled from the most pleasing aspects of furniture. The popularity of these new designs was not contained to England, where they originated. Consumers’ desire for the newest sophisticated furniture designs spanned across Europe. It quickly became the most reproduced furniture style in the United States during the Federal period.
Closely resembling the Federal style, Sheraton furniture consists of straighter lines and plainer designs that made a lasting impact on the furniture industry. The ripple effect of the original designer’s work continued to inspire furniture makers for many decades and still remains widely appreciated today. This reproduction style captures the beauty of simplicity and represents the tremendous scope of a small-town cabinetmaker’s distinctive designs.
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