Once upon a time, there lived a Dutch prince named William of Orange. He overthrew the king of England and ruled the land with Mary, the king’s daughter.
One of the most significant things for which William and Mary are remembered is the furniture they introduced to England. The kingdom had been used to bulky block furniture but when the couple ascended the throne, they brought a new style that would change the world.
From England, the William and Mary design spread to other continents, including America.
Today, this furniture is not the most popular, as numerous modern designs have come up. Mainly, you will find it in rural areas in Europe. Still, it is rare beauty that raises eyebrows.
If you’re a lover of luxurious antique furniture, hop on as we sail through the aisles of William and Mary furniture.
History of William and Mary Style Furniture
When someone says they have a story, furniture history is the last thing you expect to hear. The history of furniture? What? Who cares? Funny enough, the person asking such questions might be doing so from a fancy couch, with some pudding on a table nearby.
Or perhaps they’re sited at a coffee table sipping some tea.
We seldom appreciate it, but furniture plays a huge role in our comfort. Without it, we’d lead a pretty uncomfortable life.
The history of furniture goes back a long way. In America and Europe, and pretty much the rest of the world, the history of modern furniture fashion can be traced to the time of William and Mary.
With their taste, the king and queen really defined the standards, paving way for comfortable luxury furniture.
William and Mary Furniture’s story started in the 17th century. Back then, England was being ruled by a king called James II. But there was a problem with James II’s rule. While the population was chiefly protestant, the king was a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
Owing to the altercation, James II was overthrown in what was termed the Glorious Revolution. Guess who took the throne? William of Orange. It doesn’t really add up why, but the ousted king’s daughter married the man who took her father’s throne.
Together, they ruled the kingdom. One of the benefits Mary had to enjoy is that she wasn’t just the king’s wife. She and William ruled the kingdoms of Ireland, Scotland, and England jointly. As partners.
The new king and queen would bring about various changes. Of these, furniture taste was one of the most significant.
Before their rise to power, England had been used to heavy block furniture that was primarily dark. But now, the new rulers introduced better furniture that was built with portability, comfort, and versatility in mind.
At the time, the Baroque building technique was sweeping through England. Along with the Flemish and Dutch furniture building traditions, it played a role in defining how the W&M style would be.
So ultimately, it was thin and lightweight with a dark but dramatic color scheme. More so, it was highly decorative and elegant.
Maybe you’re wondering – what were the exact features of this new design?
In the age prior to the introduction of W&M furniture, England was dominated by what was called Carolean and Jacobean furniture. This was blocky with sharp angles.
W&M, on the other hand, had softer curves and you know what was most defining about it? Those elegant spiral designs.
Visually and physically, the previous style was bulky. The new style, on the other hand, put emphasis on portability. It was relatively thin and lightweight.
Before, furniture was short with the bottom blocks almost touching the ground. But now, a significant feature of William & Mary was that the tables, chairs, drawer chests, and desks were more elevated.
The legs were higher and installations were generally taller. Looking at the furniture, you could clearly see it was more disconnected from the ground.
So you might ask – how were they able to transform the design from heavy to light? Great question!
They used dovetail joints. Just as the term implies, the joints resembled the tail of a dove. Tapering triangles, called pins, were interlocked with sections assuming the shape of tails. Although dovetailing had been used before, it rose into prominence as a furniture building style during the W&M era.
Lacquer has been a popular finish for a very long time. It has a curing process that leaves a glossy but lasting finish.
If you look at William & Mary furniture, you will note that dark was its characteristic appearance. Notably, maple and walnut wood were used to construct this furniture. Lacquer and other paint finishes were the used to bring out that nice final look.
But were maple and walnut the only wood that was used? They were the main material, but of course not the only. The carpenters also utilized oak, cedar, and pine.
As you might note, the front of the desks and cabinets looked a little different and highly decorative. How was that achieved? They were covered with wood veneer, or rather thin wood sheets.
Legs and feet
If there are parts of the W&M furniture that you’re unlikely to miss, it is the legs. They assume all manner of shapes and styles.
Some of the them are Flemish scroll, others are columnar spiral, and yet others are trumpet.
The bold turning characteristic of the legs can only mean one thing – fashioning them included the use of tools like chisels and lathes.
To spice things up some more, the designers installed a myriad of feet on the furniture. These included hoof, ball, turnip, and bun among others.
Chairs and Tables
Before the dawn of the W&M style, the English chairs and tables were blocky and heavy. The duo popularised a style where furniture was thinner and lightweight.
Ever wondered when people started using tables for special functions? Okay, William and Mary were not the first to use tables this way, but they definitely played a key role in promoting this practice.
They had the woodworkers create small tables for specialized functions like dressing and tea.
Do you love butterfly tables? If you don’t know these, I suggest you check them out online. They’re so cute. Well, butterfly tables became a favorite among the people in the W&M period.
But you know what style was the most popular? The Gate-leg. It seemed to get the highest preference. Gate-leg tables were made in a variety of sizes for a range of purposes.
The new chairs were high back and were adorned with plentiful embellishments.
In the chair realm, the side was the common style, though armchairs were built also. Wing and daybed chairs were made as well.
One of the notable things about chairs is that they were constructed with more features to bring comfort. For instance, the leather was cushioned.
Features of the W&M furniture:
- Lightweight in comparison to previous styles
- Lighter shades, albeit still dark
- Lots of comfort upholstery such as cushioned leather
- Front legs matched back legs
- Flemish scrolls, spiral, and columnar legs
- Simple but elegant feet such as bun, hoof, or pear-shape
- Dovetail joints were used to construct drawers
- Plenty of embellishments
- Lifted higher off the ground
- High-back chairs
- Tables for special purposes such as dressing and tea
- Lacquer and paint finish
- Veneer on drawers and cabinets
Pros of W&M furniture:
- Accentuated beauty and elegance – admirable
- Constructed from durable materials – some have survived to this day
- Less bulky than previous furniture, hence easier to move
- Unique style
- An epitome of antique beauty
- Served as a model for later developments in the furniture technology
- Fell out of style – but that happens to all inventions
- Expensive today as it is rare
The William and Mary furniture is a graceful combination of early craftsmanship and unique style. Though it fell out of fashion in the early 18th century, its rarity and beauty has remained a thing to adore. It is a truly wondrous surviving example of antique prestige and comfort.
There are not many W&M furniture pieces but there are various collections on the internet you can browse.
To wrap it up, thank you for taking the time to check out this article. I hope it was as informative as I hoped it would be.
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