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Clues to Chair Identification – Leg Shapes

Channel back chair with simple cabriole leg, and a beautifully carved Chippendale cabriole leg

Cabriole, saber, trumpet, flemish…

It almost sounds like a prop list from a 40’s Swashbuckler. I’m reminded of a New England antique shop: rickety wood steps, a screen door that opens outward so I have to back down a step to open it, inadvertently brushing off a few tenuous green paint chips clinging to the weathered gingerbread. Inside it’s dusty, dark, and crammed full of antique furniture. Some treasures, some junk. All with a story to tell. I’m in furniture heaven.

I wasn’t savvy to it at the time, but I’ve since learned to notice the legs – shapely or straight, they are important clues to the style and period of a piece. Not a definitive guide to dating, but rather an indication of the derivation of a piece, since popular shapes have been reproduced throughout history.

The cabriole leg graced Louis XV, Queen Anne & Chippendale chairs of the 18th century. This pleasing leg form is still used by current-day manufacturers.

cabriole leg examples (boxhouse-antiques.com)

Channel back chair with simple cabriole leg, and a beautifully carved Chippendale cabriole leg

The Federal and the Sheraton styles of the late 18th to early 19th century featured a straight leg with fluted or reeded wood shaping.

Queen Anne, Chippendale, Sheraton, and Federal style chair legs (howstuffworks.com)

Four examples of chair legs associated with particular periods in furniture history

close-up illustration of fluting & reeding (amanatool.com) fluted & reeded leg examples (arthurbrett.com & cherrybrookwoodworks.com) The S-shaped Flemish scroll leg shape came into vogue in the mid to late 17th century with the late Baroque furniture style, characterized by dark wood and elaborate carving.

the subdued color is eclipsed by curvy carving on this antique flemish chair (antiques.about.com)

Intricate carving marks the Flemish style

The saber leg shape was derived from ancient Greek & Roman chair design. hand made carved wood chair by Scott Morrison (finewoodworker.com)The trumpet leg, shaped just as you’d expect (like a trumpet), became popular when King William employed craftsmen from his native Holland during the late 17th century to design furniture for him. wingback wonder! Fuscia, sky blue & chartreuse perfectly combined! (theoddchaircompany.com) These five basic leg forms (cabriole, straight, flemish, saber and trumpet) are used, along with other features, to identify furniture from specific time periods (or reproductions there-of). I did not know any of this as I browsed that dusty New England antique shop, but I now know that leg shapes are an important key to unlocking the origins of a piece of furniture. Which shapes can you find on your furniture at home?

Identifying and dating antique furniture accurately takes years of practice. I am far from expert in this field, so I love a good revelation now and then. I find that looking at one piece of the puzzle at a time gives the learning process an air of discovery and fun!

Here’s a great article about getting to know the three different types of Louis-style chairs:

I’ll be exploring more furniture identification clues in future posts. If you’d like to learn more, sign up for my newsletter. I write about all aspects of upholstery, including its rich history.

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About the Author

CarlaHey there! I'm Carla Pyle. I love the stories that our furniture tells. For me a picture of my Granddaddy Milton's green upholstered arm chair brings to mind the vivid rhymes & colors of 'The Cat in the Hat' and his soft low voice in the telling. I love too that there is always an element of nature in furniture - the warm-toned curving grain of a walnut leg or the reflection of life in a mid-century chrome piece. The best part of teaching & sharing natural upholstery is that it ties all of these things together. Stories - of individual experience and of the planet - help us build happy & healthy homes.View all posts by Carla →

  1. hamedhamed11-20-2015

    tankx

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