It was the restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660, and grand ideas on fashions that he brought back from court of Louis XIV of France, that saw the introduction of walnut as the favoured wood of cabinet makers in Britain.
Oak was strong and robust, where walnut was light and pretty and ideal for veneering and marquetry furniture. The use of walnut coincided with the arrival of Protestant Huguenot cabinet makers, who not only brought with them their cabinetry skills but the new Baroque style which was soon adopted in Britain. The ‘barley-sugar’ twist leg also became very popular during Charles’ reign and the ‘new wood’ meant that antique chairs were now elaborately carved and turned. Carving became simpler during the reign of William and Mary (1689-1702) but chairs were still lavishly upholstered and the bun shaped foot as a design feature on chairs and antique chests began to appear. Small tables for cards and tea-drinking were also becoming common.
It was during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14), that walnut furniture reached its peak in popularity. Walnut veneers were now being used on chests, dining chairs, chests on stands, cabinets and bureaux. A distinctive feature of chairs particularly was the cabriole leg, which was often carved with shell motifs at the knee, and ball and claw at the feet. Writing desks with the drop front and pull out supports also became very popular and bookcases and cabinets were often placed on top of chests to create the bureau-bookcase and the secretaire cabinet.
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