n material objects such as furniture, I believe beauty is born from pleasing proportion and the harmonious relationship between curved and straight lines. Straight lines impart structure, mass, and solidity. Curved lines lend movement, elegance, and grace. To me, Queen Anne-style furniture presents the perfect union of straight and curved components. Simple lines, graceful curves, unpretentious decoration, and delicate proportion all contribute to some of the most beautiful expressions in American furniture.
Queen Anne is a name given to a style of furniture first produced in the American Colonies in the early to mid 18th Century. Assigning periods or historical epochs to furniture styles, however, is solely useful for discussions about their origins. This style saw only embryonic development during the reign of Queen Anne herself, yet it remains immensely popular to this day. Indeed, while I am certainly not an 18th Century cabinetmaker, most of the pieces I’ve produced in my rural, one-man shop have been in this elegant style, and they have ranged from faithful reproductions of period pieces to modern adaptations.
What are the hallmarks of Queen Anne furniture? The most prominent feature is the cabriole leg, a sculptured, three-dimensional form based on animal motifs. Other essential characteristics include the scrolled aprons of tables, chairs and case pieces; the vase-shaped splats of chair backs; the scrolled pediments of high chests and secretaries; the arch-panel doors of secretaries and cupboards; and the shell carvings on chair crests, dressing tables, and other case pieces. Virtually all of these elements are dependent on the curve, on the S-shaped so-called “line of beauty.”
In becoming familiar with any style of furniture, you eventually recognize how style is evolutionary, how it develops and changes with the accretion of new ideas. All design is in constant flux at any of its stages. I take great pleasure in examining furniture for vestiges of the Queen Anne style, both in period pieces and in new designs from the shops of contemporary craftsmen. I don’t ask “Is this piece Queen Anne?” but rather “What are the Queen Anne characteristics of this particular piece, and do any other elements contribute to or conflict with the effective beauty of its design?” In this way, the old is constantly blended with the new—a stockpot in the kitchen of ideas.
Norm Vandal builds reproduction furniture in his Roxbury, Vermont shop and teaches literature at a nearby high school. He is the author of Queen Anne Furniture, published by The Taunton Press.