French design is one of the most popular elements in the world of antique furniture. By the mid-1960s, these characteristics had traveled to North America, influencing the French Canadian furniture scene. There, the earliest furniture makers were skilled in carpentry but were not considered cabinetmakers, producing some of the finest pieces of furniture in history.
Many furniture styles followed the examples set by the original French pieces of the Louis periods. Although Louis XV is considered one of the worst kings in the history of France, his reign changed the world of furniture design. Some of the most intricately detailed furniture resulted from this time frame and many pieces are quite valuable.
Louis XV furniture features graceful, curvaceous lines. It represents a very free style that is romantic and sensual, almost feminine. With extensive hand-carved detailing and hand-painted craftsmanship, Louis XV pieces are quite different from Louis XIV styles.
Although Louis XIV designs influenced subsequent woodworkers as well, its style was not quite as classical in nature. It relied on straight lines and angles, producing bulkier furniture. These pieces were also machine painted and cut. The Louis designs also became known for patterns, such as diamonds, flowers and vines.
In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor of France and shortly thereafter, the furniture began to reflect the magnitude of his ego. Large, showy pieces were produced, with the design changing significantly from that of Louis XIV and XV. Furniture created during this time became known as the Empire style. Empire pieces do not contain any carvings but, instead, feature wood veneers and metal accents. A popular addition to Empire furniture was the use of metal decorations - often inspired by Egyptian history - called ormolus.
As time progressed, many woodworkers returned to the time-honoured Louis styles. French Canadian designers were no exception. As the 19th Century approached, the most common woods used in French Canadian furniture construction were pine, birch and butternut. Although maple trees were plentiful, the wood was too hard to be used in regular furniture and was better-suited to tool handles and firewood. Designs and styles soon changed with the times and other types of wood were introduced with richer qualities, such as mahogany and cherry.
Before glue and nails became main components of furniture building, wooden pins were used. Each piece was constructed with the assistance of a joiner, a woodworker whose skill level sat somewhere between a carpenter and cabinetmaker, and a turner, who offered advice on the construction method and type of wood.
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