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Commonwealth Period Decorating 1649 - 1660
The Commonwealth period of decorating marked a return to basics and the abolishment of frivolous features. During this time in English history, the monarchy was overthrown by the Puritan Cromwells. Because the Puritans scorned all forms of richness and décor, furniture pieces were based on function instead of fashion and décor. Instead of elegant curves and beautiful carvings, pieces were instead based upon basic shapes designed to perform useful functions.
The Commonwealth Period
This period in history was preceded by a war that broke out in 1642, which ended with the Puritans being in control. These religious zealots, who were lead by Oliver Cromwell, had a strong influence on lifestyle and decorating styles. There was a heavy focus on utilitarian and even austere styles of decorating, largely based on the Puritans' distaste of elegance and frivolity. These preferences are definitely visible in the furniture pieces made during this period.
Cromwellian Style Characteristics from the Commonwealth Period
If you look at a piece of furniture from the Commonwealth period, you'll immediately notice a focus on simplicity and function. Compared to the relatively subdued appearance of the Jacobean period, pieces from the Commonwealth period look even less decorative. Instead of beautiful carved decorations, furniture pieces usually featured moldings that were simply applied. Instead of elegantly turned furniture details, simple bobbin turning was generally used. The overall look of furniture pieces from the period was rather severe, featuring straight lines with barely any decoration. Chairs frequently featured two sets of stretcher rails on the sides, with a higher stretcher rail placed in the front.
Chairs with open slat backs were quite prevalent. Chair designs that featured slung backs and seats were also quite common. However, the luxuriously comfortable stuffed backs and seats that were previously popular were considered to be far too extravagant to be used during this time period. Instead, you often found leather used in chair construction to replace the rich and elegant tapestries and velvets that were previously common.
When you examine a piece of furniture from the Commonwealth period, you'll immediately notice that you'll never find something decorative when something more austere would do. Furniture pieces were styled in a very practical fashion, without the use of ornamentation or upholstery. Any form of ornamentation, carving or luxury was frowned upon by the puritans. Pieces looked severe, with sharp angular profiles. Turned furniture legs featuring a spiral or bobbin turning style, were the only decorative features of this style of furniture. In fact, chairs often had turned stretchers as well as turned legs.
Furniture pieces from the period often had a farmhouse look to them. This utilitarian style of furniture tends to look most at home in a more country style of decorating. Furniture from this era tends to be sturdy and useful, with emphasis on function instead of style. As such, these pieces can add a nice touch to a more relaxed or country style of decorating. Although comfort was not a primary consideration, good craftsmanship was definitely evident. Even though furniture designs were not fancy, they were definitely carefully planned and thoughtfully constructed.