History Of Oak Furniture

Oak has a very long history of being used for furniture. The earliest pieces we can trace back to the Dark Ages. This came about mainly because oak was so very plentiful in Europe, so it was readily and cheaply available for anyone and everyone to use. Oak is ideally suited to furniture, it is a dense, heavy wood, that is prized for its strength, durability and grain. Oak can withstand all the knocks and bumps that we can throw at, and many pieces have survived for 100′s of years!

In the beginning when furniture was just starting to be made, mainly benches were constructed and it was only the very wealthy who had them. Design was very basic, just rectangular shapes at first, tables when they appeared were roughly hewn- these were functional pieces. As the western world developed more uses were found for wooden furniture – chests began to appear, then cupboards and wardrobes.

From mediaeval times furniture began to be less functional and more ornate, the wealthy middle classes had money and wanted to show the world that they did. They commissioned personal pieces that often had names or important dates on them, e.g. of marriages or births. These elaborate items of furniture were produced by skilled craftsmen who had to undergo years of training to be accepted to the guild as qualified artisans.  Traditional items of furniture were lovingly made using traditional joining methods such as dovetailing; these details add character to the historic pieces. Hand carving was also prominent; the dense structure of oak makes it ideal for carving great details. The oak furniture was of a dark color. Oak furniture was popular for many years but began to go out of fashion in the mid 1600′s when the lighter woods from the Continent became popular, along with the use of veneers and inlaid designs.

In the US Mission oak furniture became popular around the turn of the 20th century. This was during the American Arts and crafts movement and produced some of the well known American furniture designers such as Gustav Stickley. The designs produced at this time are some of the most famous and include features like simple lines, exposed joinery, sealed but unpainted wood and natural materials for upholstery.

Contemporary oak furniture came about between the wars, the devastation of war had left many forest depleted and wood was scarce there was a prohibition on using oak for some years. Any use of oak was therefore minimalist in design and weight. From the 1980′s it has become popular again with skilled cabinet makers and commercial producers, producing varied styles from rustic, period, retro to modern.

Currently the United States is the world’s largest producer of Oak.  The classic oak of America is the white oak, although that is only one over 80 different varieties of oak.  A Red oak tree can take over 20 years to mature. Oak is available in a range of colors from white to dark brown, with some pinkie/reds as well.

Oak furniture is still in great demand and expensive to buy, so any you buy can be considered to be an heirloom!