Almost every week, someone on the LAP Open Wire asks what book they should read to learn about the different furniture styles. To be honest, I haven’t had a good answer because most of the guides to furniture styles are terrible and not worth buying for $1.
So I took some time to see if I could hunt up a decent one. During my search, I thought: Dang. I sure wish there was a book like Virginia McAlester’s “Field Guide to American Houses.” It is clear, concise and does not turn its back on vernacular forms.
Turns out, there is a similar book for American furniture styles: “Field Guide to American Antique Furniture” by Joseph T. Butler (1985, Henry Holt).
The book is exactly what we would publish here at Lost Art Press. The first section contains a short overview of the major American styles, from the 17th century to the early 20th century. How did the styles emerge? What influenced them? What are their major features?
The bulk of the book is devoted to showing you illustrations of different furniture forms in all of the American styles.
Daybeds, Sofas, Benches, Settes
Chests of Drawers
Desks and Bookcases
So you’ll learn – through illustrations – what are the differences between a Queen Anne candlestand and a Chippendale one. Or a William and Mary cupboard compared to a Victorian one.
It’s fun to browse through. And is a great reference. There’s even an excellent glossary of furniture terms at the back.
So there you go. Buy that book. Read it. Memorize it (there will be a quiz). And only then can you bug me about a book on European furniture styles.
— Christopher Schwarz