Brief History of Amish Furniture

Amish furniture is synonymous with quality and considered by some to be the epitome of craftsmanship. Amish furniture is particularly popular here in the United States and is considered to be a specialty style as it can’t easily be found in furniture stores. In fact there are less than 200 Amish craft stores in the United States, majority of which are located in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Despite Amish furniture being so firmly rooted many people are still unfamiliar with this type of furniture.

By understanding some of the history of Amish furniture you will learn how the Amish were influenced in their designs, the various styles the furniture comes in, and better understand why Amish furniture tends to be on the expensive side compared to other types of furniture.

Early Influences and History

Present-day Amish home furniture really came into the spotlight back in the 1920s as a type of American folk art. Even to this day many historians, furniture dealers, and even some art dealers, hold Amish-made furniture and furnishings in high regard.

To get an idea of why Amish furniture styles are different you need to go even further back to see what their early influences were. Amish families originally arrived in North America in 1737. Moving ahead up into 1770 more Amish settled with majority relying on their expertise in woodworking to get by. In 1774 a major change occurred – Shakers arrived in America from England and brought with them simple, sturdy furniture designs. This had a significant influence on the Amish furniture we still see today.

Moving forward from the 1790s until 1862 Amish furniture primarily kept the same styling. Henry Lapp become one of the best known cabinetmakers, primarily thanks to the Aish influence in his design. For the most part Amish furniture during this time was Shaker style but things began to change in 1898.

In 1898 a major furniture manufacturer at the time began to design and sell Mission style furniture, which was inspired by the bold, solid furniture commonly found in Spanish missions. This simplistic style was naturally attractive to many of the Amish furniture makers and soon they began to offer the same styling.

Amish furniture styling was easily maintained since the families themselves use this furniture. Had this not been the case the traditions of Amish-style construction and design would likely have been lost.

Amish Furniture

Techniques and Design Styles

Despite the term Amish being used in reference to all types of Amish-made furniture, there are two distinct styles commonly seen. The two main Amish furniture designs are:

  •  Shaker

Shaker furniture is the fundamental Amish design. Most of this furniture consists of all wood construction and a lack of hardware (i.e. wooden knobs on drawers). It has a very simplistic, gentle look that either uses straight lines or gentle curves and tapering.

The main difference with Shaker style furniture is that it tends to be made of pine, maple or cherry and is stained very lightly. This furniture is fairly plain and the lack of veneers and heavy stains allows the beauty of the natural wood speak for itself.

  •  Mission

Present Mission furniture designs were adopted and perfected by the Amish. This design was based off furniture in Spanish missions that were bulky, heavy yet incredibly well made. Mission furniture consists of thick wood, slats, straight legs and angles, with a lack of curving or tapering. Mission furniture also uses hardware instead of wooden knobs.

Mission furniture is still very simplistic in design but is considered to be slightly more ornate. This furniture is often made of oak but regardless of the wood used it’s almost always stained dark.

While Shaker and Mission furniture make up the bulk of what you’ll find in an Amish furniture store you will also find that some furniture makers add their own styling to their work. Also, Amish furniture makers tend to be very accepting of designs in the event you want custom furniture made.

Technology and Tools

The uneducated may find it unusual how Amish furniture is so expensive compared to the commonly seen mass-produced furniture common in stores. The reasons for this has to do with the quality of the furniture and how it’s made.

Amish furniture, regardless of design, consists of solid wood. They do not use particle board, composites or veneers. Every piece of furniture is real wood, which is surprisingly rare to find with commercially-produced furniture. This is an important distinction to consider. Real, solid wood furniture is going to last an incredibly long amount of time. In fact, it’s no surprise that within Amish families furniture is based down between generations.

Another reasons why Amish furniture is an investment is the technology used to create it. Or rather, the lack of modern technology used. The Amish do not believe in used electricity, including modern woodworking tools. This means that Amish craftsmen use only hand tools or hydraulic and pneumatic power. Some Amish communities do allow the use of more modern tools for woodworking. However, it is safe to assume that any handcrafted Amish furniture truly is handcrafted.

Amish furniture is simple, beautiful and an incredible investment. This is solid furniture, crafted with time-tested techniques not commonly seen anymore. After learning about Amish influences and how the furniture is actually made it is easy to see why this style of furniture remains so sought after.

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