THE ROYAL HISTORY OF QUEEN ANNE FURNITURE
It might not top the list of those pieces that are “having a moment,” but in our hearts of hearts, we’ll always save a place for Queen Anne style furniture. A name applied to elegant, doe-legged furniture constructed throughout the 18th Century, Queen Anne furniture is about as traditional as it gets, but thanks to its graceful-but-simple forms, it maintains an accessibility that lends it to both formal and eclectic interiors alike.
To shed more light on Queen Anne furniture (which is often overshadowed by its heir, Chippendale furniture), we’re delving into both the history of Queen Anne furniture, along with a run-down of its signature attributes. From cabriole legs to “Japanning,” this is Queen Anne furniture 101.
THE QUEEN ANNE STORY
A royal story always has its fair share of juice, and the story of Queen Anne furniture is no exception. To begin, the style was named for Queen Anne, but the years in which she reigned don’t actually correlate to Queen Anne furniture production. While Queen Anne ruled from 1702 to 1714, the furniture bearing her name was primarily produced from the 1720s until the 1760s. Additionally, these years mostly pertain to American-made Queen Anne furniture and not European-made.
As a whole, Queen Anne furniture was favored by Americans. While Europeans did dabble in the style, it is generally referred to as Georgian furniture (which Americans also have, though it refers to an entirely different, later style) and the affair was fairly short-lived. So how did Queen Anne furniture come to assume it’s royal title in America? Well, Queen Anne was an avid tea drinker and introduced the concept of “having a spot of tea” to the world. To accommodate the trend, furniture craftsman began producing small, moveable furniture pieces like tea tables and drop-leaf side tables. Since the pieces were unlike any furniture that came before it, they warranted both a new style and a new name.
While the British favored the term Georgian (in tribute to Queen Anne’s successors—George I, II, and III), Americans preferred to call it Queen Anne furniture. Why? Well, origins are murky, but some muse that it may be because newly-colonized Americans were resistant to naming anything in even remote resemblance to King George III (who helped to spur that little thing called the American Revolution). Still, others historians feel that curvy, leggy Queen Anne furniture simply demanded a feminine-sounding name, which Queen Anne definitely is. Worth noting here is that Queen Anne furniture was named only after the fact, during its revival in the early 1800s.
Queen Anne furniture itself is a mix of Baroque, classical, and Asian styles. Its emergence signified a shift in furniture, as Queen Anne was slimmer and more compact than the Baroque furniture that came before it. It was truly an overthrow of archaic, passé furniture ideals if you will—a revolution all its own.
THE ATTRIBUTES OF QUEEN ANNE FURNITURE
If there’s one dominate feature of Queen Anne furniture it’s that cabriole leg. Elegant and fluid, the cabriole leg features a bump-out that resembles a knee, and an inward curving “ankle.” The effect? A leg that resembles that of a gazelle, deer, or a dog. Most Queen Anne cabriole legs end in a pad foot, but spade, trifid, and ball-and-claw feet can also be found. Worth noting is that ball-and-claw feet are more often indicative of Chippendale furniture than Queen Anne furniture, but some late Queen Anne styles do showcase the pterodactyl-like grips.
Beyond the cabriole legs, Queen Anne furniture is recognizable for its deep, dark wood finishes—the result of walnut wood construction. While maple, pine, ash, and tulip woods were used as well, walnut was the primary choice due to its resemblance to covetable, Caribbean mahogany. While mahogany was available in port cities, the distribution radius was low, and so most American builders resorted to walnut, which was then stained to resemble mahogany. Ingenious, right?
Most Queen Anne furniture also showcases some amount of carving. Fan radials and shell motifs are common finds on Queen Anne armoires and Queen Anne cabinets, while Queen Anne tables often showcase scalloped aprons. But the undeniable jewel when it comes to carved Queen Anne furniture? The Queen Anne chair.
Queen Anne chairs showcase lovely cabriole legs and upholstered seats, but even these pretty elements are upstaged by Queen Anne chairs’ curvaceous back splats. Often likened to a shapely vase or urn, Queen Anne chair’s back splats are slinky and sensuous, following no particular pattern. And because the chair back is framed, the negative space created by the splat is just as enticing as the splat itself. The result makes hunting for Queen Anne furniture all the more thrilling, as it can feel like options are endless.
Many attribute Queen Anne style to the influence of antique Chinese corner chairs which showcased yoke-shaped top rails and splats. Likewise, other Asian influence can be seen in the prevalence of delicate, Oriental-themed paintings that adorn Queen Anne case pieces like dressers and secretary desks. Deemed “Japanning,” the idea was to imitate the whispery Eastern lacquer work that appeared on everything from vases to cabinets. While only featured on a small percentage of Queen Anne furniture, “Japanned” furniture is a staple of the Queen Anne style, and any period home should consider factoring at least one of these exquisite pieces onto their list of must-haves.