Regency Period Furniture (1800 - 1830)
Furniture styles often bear the name of the historical periods in which they occur. For English furniture, this often means naming a style after the king or queen on the throne at the time. With the Regency Period of furniture, the naming convention only partially applies and reveals the complicated political atmosphere of England at the time.
Unlike prior periods, borrowing elements from Roman and Greek furniture, designers of the Regency Period often tried to recreate the actual furniture pieces found in the museums, vaults, and artwork of the time. The introduction of Egyptian artifacts also sparked a desire to bring those elements into the Regency Period style. Thematic motifs of ancient gods, sphinxes, lions, and griffins ornamented many pieces. Additionally, a revival of Eastern influence from China and Japan inspired the use of bamboo, wood carved to resemble bamboo, and lacquered finishes.
While all these cultural and historic influences helped determine the furniture of the Regency Period, the style itself used ornamentation for its elegance, rather than rich carvings and curved lines exhibited in earlier periods of furniture design. The woodworking of the pieces generally exhibited plain lines and surfaces with slender legs and right angles. In many ways, this helped highlight the ornamentation by providing a simplistic background to avoid distraction.
The components of Regency Period furniture include the selection of wood and the use of metals for accents. Mahogany remained the dominant wood for furniture design, while exotic wood like ebony was featured in many high-end pieces. Additionally, veneers of rosewood and zebrawood added visually striking surfaces or features to the clean lines of the style.
The addition of metal accents, however, gave Regency Period furniture its ornate elegance. Furniture makers primarily used brass, while occasionally including bronze or ormolu, an imitation gold. Brass inlays, accents along corners and legs, handles, and hinges, were popular. Of note, brass rosettes or lions' heads to hold rings on cabinet doors and drawers decorated many pieces, while the bases of furniture legs were often animal feet made of brass. Glass insets on cabinet doors would also be covered and protected by brass grills in lattice patterns or scrollwork designs.
Gonçalo Alves is a hardwood (from the Portuguese name, Gonçalo Alves). It is sometimes referred to as tigerwood — a name that underscore the wood’s often dramatic, contrasting color scheme.
While the sapwood is very light in color, the heartwood is a sombre brown, with dark streaks that give it a unique look. The wood’s color deepens with exposure and age and even the plainer-looking wood has a natural luster.
Two species are usually listed as sources for gonçalo alves: Astronium fraxinifolium and Astronium graveolens, although other species in the genus may yield similar wood; the amount of striping that is present may vary.
In the high tropical forests of Central and South America, well-drained soils furnish nutrients for a variety of dense, durable hardwoods sought for maritime use, heavyconstruction, and furniture. The Spanish began harvesting in Latin American forests in the early 1500s to provide timber for boatbuilding and repair. By the early 1900s, however, steel ships had replaced wooden ones, and the interest in tropical forests by both Europeans and Americans shifted to appearance-grade woods for furniture.
Although history fails to provide us with a shopping list of species from either harvest period, it's probable that the wood we know today as goncalo alves has always been sought. That's because goncalo alves, considered one of the most beautiful of tropical woods, has a tough reputation, too. Strong and durable, it's used for construction in its homeland and secondarily for fine furniture. Woodworkers elsewhere treasure the wood for decorative items and veneer accents.