The History of the Furniture Industry in the U.S.



by Lawrence Brown



Take a moment.  Think about what you’re sitting on, what you’re sleeping on, what you eat on.  Tables, desks, chairs - they’re so utilitarian that we often forget there is a magnificently rich history linked to the furniture industry in the US.  What started as a necessity for early colonists - furniture-making exploded over the centuries in America.  From its inchoate stages to modern creation, let’s take a look at the evolution of furniture production and what this diverse industry has in store for the future.

The Beginning of the Furniture Industry in the United States

In the early days of America, furniture was a necessity crafted from basic materials like oak, pine, and maple - essentially whatever people could get their hands on. Settlers brought their woodworking skills from Europe to create functional pieces for their homes.

As the colonies grew, so did the need for finely crafted wood furniture, and antebellum America had to work to keep up with demand.  Skilled craftsmen honed their techniques, producing intricate designs that became sought after by wealthy landowners and merchants.

The Impact of the Industrial Revolution on the U.S. Furniture Industry

A look at the history books during the 19th century will reveal the Industrial Revolution. This era shook the furniture industry as it enabled mass-produced pieces and made stylish furniture accessible to a wider and growing audience.
Production efficiency increased significantly with advancements in woodworking machinery, such as steam-powered saws and drills. This allowed for more complex designs and faster output of goods.

Early American furniture styles were influenced by European trends but began developing their unique aesthetic over time. From Queen Anne's elegant curves to Chippendale's intricate carvings, each style reflected the cultural influences of its era.

How Materials and Design Shaped the History of Furniture Design in the U.S.

Innovations in materials and techniques have played a significant role in shaping furniture styles over the years. As new materials became available, designers experimented with different forms and structures.
Design trends have shifted from traditional to modern throughout history, reflecting societal changes and artistic movements. Whether it's sleek mid-century modern designs or cozy farmhouse-inspired pieces, each era brings its own unique flair to the world of furniture.

Wood and Its Role In Shaping the History of the U.S. Furniture Production

When you consider it’s the most durable material, and (at least in the early settler days) it’s so easily accessible - it makes sense that wood was the choice material for furniture making in America, and it still is to this day.  Why does wood dominate throughout the furniture industry in U.S. history? Let’s take a look.

Wooden furniture exudes warmth and character that is unmatched by other materials, adding a touch of sophistication to any space. Consider the coveted pieces hand-hewn in the Ozarks by master carpenters at James + James, who craft exceptional oval dining tables from knotty alder hardwood and other lasting pieces from real, sturdy wood.  These craftsmen and women understand that the beauty and versatility of wood offer endless possibilities for creating unique pieces that are timeless, durable, and aesthetically impressive.

Furniture Styles Throughout US History


During the 18th century, American furniture saw a shift towards more ornate and elegant designs influenced by European trends. In the 19th century, as industrialization took hold, mass production led to simpler designs like Shaker and Mission styles that emphasized craftsmanship over embellishments.

Evolving out of the 19th century, we saw the Arts and Crafts movement, which promoted handmade pieces with clean lines inspired by nature. This era also saw a resurgence of interest in traditional American folk art motifs.

Mid-century modern design in the post-World War II era embraced clean lines, minimalism, and functionality. Today, contemporary furniture styles continue to blend elements from various periods while incorporating sustainable materials and innovative technologies into their designs.

Modern Furniture Trends in the U.S.

Bulky and ornate pieces of yesteryear aren’t as pervasive today, as modern furniture emphasizes simplicity and practicality without compromising on style. From modular sofas to ergonomic office chairs, modern designs prioritize comfort while staying true to clean, geometric shapes.

Materials like metal, glass, and plastic are popular choices today, alongside wood in creating cutting-edge furniture pieces that cater to diverse tastes. Sustainability is also a key focus in modern furniture production, with many designers opting for eco-friendly materials like bamboo and green manufacturing processes.

Now we have 3D printing and computer-aided design, which has opened up endless possibilities for creating unique furniture that pushes boundaries. The fusion of traditional craftsmanship with contemporary techniques results in one-of-a-kind pieces that blend artistry with functionality seamlessly.

What Does the Future Hold for the Furniture Industry in the U.S.?

As we look to the future of the furniture industry in the United States, one thing is certain: the timeless appeal of finely crafted wood furniture will continue to captivate consumers.  However, there’s plenty of room for other materials and methods in furniture making, and being the innovators we are - there’s no telling what Americans will come up with for the future of furniture. 

As designers continue to push boundaries by incorporating sustainable practices and innovative technologies into their work, the future looks bright for the furniture industry as it embraces both tradition and innovation for centuries to come.