Today, anyone can visit furniture stores and wander aisles of items in a variety of styles. People can go online and browse through hundreds of pieces of furniture to find the exact one for their home or office. In Battle Creek, MI, both options provide potential customers with choice. Yet, in America, this has not always been the case. In fact, furniture stores were non-existent until after the country had become “civilized.”
Early American Furniture History: 1640 to 1840
Until the 19th and 20th centuries, before the automation and mechanization of the industry, people made their own furniture or bought it locally from someone who hand-made it for them. Those who were wealthy in places such as New York, NY or Battle Creek, MI, imported the items from England. For those who satisfied themselves with handcrafted pieces from local talent, the selection was minimal and generally minimalist. In fact, by the early 17th century, American furniture makers were creating their own style – one with its own characteristics, distinct from those of English origin.
At this point, the forming furniture-making trade consisted of two branches: joiners and turners (shapers. While several hundred individuals created furniture, only two a few are currently known to be in the trade. These are William Searle and Thomas Dennis who plied their craft in Ipswich, Massachusetts, during the 1660s.
During the years that followed, American furniture swung between copying various English and French styles and creating distinctly American pieces. William and Mary, Queen Anne and Chippendale became popular during the Colonial period of the 18th century. Some areas featured a style heavily influenced by German furniture – Pennsylvania Dutch (1720-1830) while the Federal style encouraged French and English influences (1780-1820).
Other styles appeared during this period including Sheraton (1780-1820) and American Empire (1800-1840). Yet, while arguably the Victorian era (1840-1910) was a remarkable period, American furniture style found its best early expression in the Shaker period (1820-1860) and the subsequent Arts and Craft or Mission styles of 1880-1920. The Shakers presented their simple furniture in small furniture Stores throughout New York State. By this point, furniture production was part of a growing industry. Furniture producers were selling their wares to showrooms. Large furniture outlets in this period even had their own workshops and furniture builders on hand to prepare custom orders for their clients.
American Furniture Stores in the Early 20th Century
The early 20th century saw the growth of the furniture industry. Manufacturing centers developed in various states including New York, North Carolina and Michigan. People in cities such as Battle Creek could now purchase items directly from a store. The retail trade was developing at a phenomenal rate across the United States. As the 20th century progressed, it was to bring into common practice further mass production of pieces – all destined for someone’s home after a stay in the country’s well-lit small and large showrooms of the country’s busy furniture stores.