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Virginia furniture has a long tradition, from the colonial period to today.

Contents

Colonial period

In colonial days, when cabinetmaker [1] Anthony Hay made furniture in Colonial Williamsburg, at least six shops catered to local tastes. As the colony grew in taste and sophistication, shops developed in other port cities such as Norfolk, Fredericksburg, Alexandria and Petersburg.[2] For instance, in Fredericksburg alone, more than a dozen manufacturers made European style furniture in shops owned by cabinetmakers like Robert and Alexander Walker, James Allen and Thomas Miller. Many of these early cabinetmakers also worked at house joinery, making an intimate connection between the rooms and the objects in them [3].

Developments

Across the South, furniture making flourished and Virginia was no exception. During the early part of the century, most historians thought that furniture making was centered around larger Northern cities like Philadelphia and New York. But in recent years, scholars and Virginia historians have come to understand that in early colonial and Federal years, the state had a more vibrant furniture industry than first imagined. [4] Styles included Chippendale, Queen Anne and vernacular styles. As Virginia citizens emigrated west in the 19th century, Virginia stylists and furniture makers took their patterns and styles with them [5]. Not all the styles mimicked the British; emigrants like the German Johannes Spitler brought their native painting and folk decorative styles to the Shenandoah Valley [6].

Some companies from the early 19th century survived. In 1830, E.A. Clore was founded. It is now one of the oldest companies in the United States and still makes furniture at its Madison County location.

In the 19th century, a typical small town like Waterford, Virginia had a number of small manufacturers, in Waterford's case makers like John Mount, William T. Mount, and Lewis N. Hough. [7]

Twentieth century

Early employees of Bassett Furniture Company, Bassett, Virginia, circa 1900

By the 20th century, the interest in historic preservation fostered by groups like the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities meant a renewed interest in colonial styles. Companies like Biggs Furniture grew out of a small antiques shop in Richmond into a major reproductions manufacturer that came close to rivaling Ethan Allen. With the establishment of Colonial Williamsburg in the 1930s, the interest in colonial reproductions grew, though reproductions of the Williamsburg collection sold at CW's Craft House were made by the Kittinger Company of New York.

Through the 20th century, mass-marketed furniture prevailed, and companies like Stanley Furniture, Pulaski Furniture, Rowe Furniture and Bassett Furniture grew into national brands. They grew around the area of Martinsville, where they sometimes even formed company towns. The height of this movement came when Thomas Bahnson Stanley, founder of Stanley Furniture, became Governor of Virginia in 1954. Many of these companies now show their wares in High Point, North Carolina, the American city most synonymous with furniture, located just south of Martinsville. With the advent of the more casual 1970s, rustic pine "crate-style" furniture became the rage, when Richmond-based [8] This End Up led the trend by opening a store on Richmond's Strawberry Street in 1975.

Contemporary

Imports gained strength through the 1990s and early 21st century, and once dominant Virginia companies have struggled with the onslaught of Asian imports [9]. While not a descriptive adjective like Williamsburg, Virginia furniture is also a look, and a Virginia style of decorating has permeated the world of interior design. Virginia natives like Nancy Lancaster, William Haines, Charlotte Moss and Bunny Williams have had influential roles in interior design using neo-traditional and modern approaches. In addition, high end start ups like McKinnon & Harris have created new markets in lawn and garden furniture.

In recent years as imports have gained strength, companies like Kingsley Bate and Flexa have located manufacturing and/or distribution facilities in Virginia because of the state's easy access ports in Hampton Roads. In October 2006, Gov. Tim Kaine announced that Swedwood North America, a subsidiary of IKEA, would build a North American manufacturing center in Cane Creek Center near Danville, Virginia, and employ up to 740 people at that Pittsylvania County plant.[10]

References

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