New feature today! We’re starting a series called Furniture Focus, where Dad will highlight the design and history of pieces he’s made in the past. First up are his Federal Style Hall Tables! — Jenn
The traditional American furniture style that I find most attractive is the Federal period, just after the revolution. The fully preserved Roman ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum were unearthed in 1748, and the resulting influence of classical design had fully transformed fashionable European furniture by 1760. Gone were the curves and flourishes of Queen Anne/Louis XV and the rococo styles, and in came a graceful rectilinear style with fine inlay lines and flat paneled cases.
Workers conversant in these styles emigrated to the US in the 1760’s and 1770’s, and fashionable Colonists embraced the style. After the revolution, Eagle motifs and other symbols not from Europe became prominent. The smaller houses here changed the scale of the furniture, and American Federal is lighter and more graceful than most comparable English Hepplewhite furniture.
I purchased a bedside table while a student, and made another in my first woodworking class, from plywood. Almost thirty years later, a refresher seemed in order. Cherry Federal bedside tables would be attractive, almost go with our other bedroom furniture, and were something I’d wanted to make for some time. The size of the tables was driven by the space available in our bedroom – 22” wide by 16” deep, and 24” tall. Two drawers made them useful, and sizing them at 3” tall was enough for utility without unbalancing the design.
The rails between the drawers are 5/8” – it’s amazing how much lighter they look than ¾” rails. The interior space between the legs is 17” wide and 15” tall – far enough from square to look like it was done on purpose. The legs are tapered on both inside surfaces – this makes the table much more elegant while keeping the visual weight inside the feet. The legs have inlaid banded cuffs at ankle and shoulder, which is appropriate for the period and manages the transition from the rectangular post block to the tapered legs. Thin walnut inlays in the cherry legs are also typical, add emphasis to enhance the verticality of the piece. A traditional ogee molding on the underside of the top lightens the look of the horizontal edge. Case joinery is completely traditional – mortise and tenon throughout.
The drawer fronts are in book matched walnut burl veneer, which adds symmetrical but random patterns and colors to the front of the case, to counter the extreme rectilinearity of the case and the other design motifs. The drawer fronts are cog-beaded, to protect the veneer and provide another shadow line for the case front. Drawer construction was traditional : the drawers were dovetailed, half blind in the front, and drawer bottoms are poplar panels inset in a groove in the drawer front and sides. Really nice Federal brass knobs from Horton Brasses add some zing.
The pieces were finished with shellac and wax, which looks great but doesn’t withstand abuse well on horizontal surfaces. I may change that one day but for now they are holding up extremely well.
Interested in Federal Furniture? You may enjoy some of Dave’s favorite Federal and American furniture books: