New Book on Southern Furniture: What Pieces Would You Include?

If you’re a student of furniture, furniture scholar, woodworker or just looking for another creative outlet, it’s a good thing that you stopped by to read this post. Popular Woodworking Magazine sent two editors (Yay, me!) to the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and to Old Salem – both in Winston-Salem, NC – to dig up information, photos and facts on southern furniture.

After a week of very tough research (yeah, right) and fact gathering, our guys returned home with a huge assemblage of great pieces built south of the Mason-Dixon line. With 65 pieces in the folder, one of the biggest jobs is to trim the numbers until we have the right amount for a book that’s due out later, but not too much later, in the year. That’s where we need your help.

We’ve loaded the selected pieces into a Flickr set so you can take a look at each piece and help us select the pieces for the book (click the link below to open the photo set). Leave a comment below the photos, or simply tag your favorites.  Thanks in advance for your help.

MESDA Collection

— Glen D. Huey

13 thoughts on “New Book on Southern Furniture: What Pieces Would You Include?

  1. skewedII

    I don’t know how many pieces you plan to include in the book so I will just list the ones that interest me, in no particular order.

    Curious spade foot table
    Shenandoah Valley Stand
    Side chair w through-mortises
    Cabriole leg desk
    Bier
    Side table with drawer from SC
    Dressing table
    Two drawer blanket chest
    Shaving stand
    Tall corner cupboard

  2. Gary Smyth

    Before I give my favorites I want to say that including dimensions are critical for the book — all of the dimensions, with sidebars showing critical joinery. Also, what would be nice is a hardware source list as an appendix. That said, all of the pieces displayed have already been evaluated so they all have merit. Still, I would favor several of the displayed items: the four post bed, secretary desk with bookcase, most any of the three or four drawer sideboard/hunt tables, for Southern furniture at least one cellerette, I also much like the blanket chest on stand. The painted chests will be popular, I’m sure, but there are better examples from Pennsylvania. I think that the spice cabinet and floor (tall) corner cupboard should be included. One or two case pieces, (I like the nine drawer, the banded chest) and the miniature chest. MY essential piece would be the plain front blanket chest on stand.

  3. Buster

    There were several items that would be fun to build, but the ones that stood out for me were; the stand and four-post bed from the Shenandoah Valley, the Bier from South Carolina, the drop leaf table and cutlery tray from the Piedmont region of North Carolina, and the desk & bookcase from Old Salem [Moravian] North Carolina. Speaking of Old Salem I saw a great chair while visiting there a few years ago of Moravian design, which combined flowing lines on the seat back while still maintaining some of the Shaker simplicity.

  4. Calvin Hobbs

    Glen,

    Although I love many of the pieces in the photo collection, being very familiar with MESDA, I need to ask “Where’s all the good stuff?!?” What you have shown is largely the country, simple, rural stuff. This somewhat perpetuates the myth that no upscale pieces were built in the south. Where’s the Charleston Double Chest, the Edenton armchair, the Thomas White Desk, anything by the WH cabinetmaker? Some of the high style Baltimore inlaid pieces? I would think at least some of these deserve inclusion…..

    Would be interested in your thoughts. Thanks, Cal

    1. Glen D. Huey Post author

      Hey Calvin – We concentrated on the “neat & plain” style for this book, but I can attest to the many unbelievable pieces found throughout the South.

      If we can get woodworkers to look to southern furniture for inspiration, you know as interest grows so will the discussions of the higher style furniture found elsewhere in the South.

      The pieces you called out, along with many others, are on the radar. I’ve spent countless hours pursing “Southern Furniture 1680-1830: The Colonial Williamsburg Collection (Williamsburg Decorative Arts Series.”

      I have a few Charleston pieces selected for my own building pleasure and continue to build and teach the Baltimore card table from PWM issue #148, June 2005.

      1. rwyoung

        I tend to agree with Cal on this one. While I’ve not had the opportunity to visit MESDA, Cal has given me (overloaded might be a better description) a list of resources to study. And reading your reply about focusing on the neat-and-plain style I suggest you at least show a side-by-side of similar pieces to illustrate the various styles as you move “up-market”. Make it clear that it ain’t all “country”.

        Then do Volume II…

  5. mattlawrence

    First, let me say thanks for doing this project. I am stunned you are doing so. Be sure to emphasize that southern cabinetmakers used what they had nearby so there was a lot of pine and poplar and walnut and cherry. Lots of pine in Georgia furniture. Two additional resources you might review are Neat Pieces: The Plain-Style Furniture of Nineteenth-Century Georgia and Furniture of the Georgia Piedmont before 1830, both of which were High Museum catalogs originally. Neat Pieces is out in a fine looking reissue.

    Anyway, the forms I would include are: nine drawer chest of drawers, blanket chest on stand, cabriole leg tea table, sideboard/huntboard (wide variety seen in southern furniture – I use one I built as a stand-up desk), shaving stand, chest on frame.

    Can’t wait.

    1. Glen D. Huey Post author

      Matt – Don’t be shocked about us doing a book on Southern furniture. There are many well-built, fascinating pieces found in the South. My bucket list of southern builds grew exponentially while researching the archives at MESDA. In fact, I snagged a couple pieces that will not be included in the PWM book for may own use – but do keep that between us.

      Southern cabinetmakers were not different from builders in the north in that we all use materials that are native to our regions. The four woods you mention are favored throughout the US, with walnut being one of the most-often woods used in many southern pieces.

      I have the “Neat Pieces” book and have studied those pieces for many years – didn’t know there was a reissue of the book (thanks).

      1. mattlawrence

        Glen – You’re right, I shouldn’t shocked at PWW writing a book on Southern furniture. If anyone were to do so, it’d be y’all. I am sure you’ve seen that Neat Pieces reprint by now. I have both it and the original and the reprint is great with more color photos. The stand up desk I built for myself is based on a sideboard from that book.

        That Thomas Elfe book is great too…

  6. Daver

    On of the things that bugs me is that the traditional Museum books don’t include dimensions and materials with photos of the objects. For eye training you need the dimensions to provide scale.

  7. griffithpark

    In general, there are two different ways to approach the selection, each justifiable in its own way.

    1) For each type of furniture (e.g. Secretary) include at least three examples. This allows more intelligent extrapolation about regional style.

    2) Only include pieces that have something special about them, and say why they’re included. The piece pictured about has that interesting inlay on the door. If that’s unique, it would be included.

    Document the currents or the exceptions, and be explicit which you’re doing.

    Chuck

  8. tsstahl

    No Flikr account for tagging, so I’ll just post my musings here.

    flat top tall clock
    Cellarette (I don’t even know what that is)
    9-Drawer Chest of Drawers — a masterpiece of balance.
    Paneled Blanket Chest –I bet you could disassemble and ship this thing flat with all those pinned tenons. Very nice.

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