The first requirements in construction are strength and durability. These are essential elements also for efficient service. Good furniture must be sincerely built from honest material, should be designed for a definite purpose, and should avoid superfluous ornament and shiny varnished finishes. The construction of furniture should be evident; that is, the necessary upright and horizontal elements should not be distorted by curves and ornament that impair the function of the members. Variations in contour, such as low flowing curves, should accord with the main outlines. Of all the necessary pieces of furniture, chairs and seats are the freest in form and may deviate farthest from straight-line design. Curved lines and rolling contours adjust themselves easily to the human form and are usually more comfortable than the rigid lines of straight chairs. This does not imply, however, that fantastic shapes are justifiable.
Fig. 26. - Types of Colonial chairs, usually developed in mahogany or cherry, which may be found in good reproductions. 1, 4 and 6, Chippendale; 2 and 3, Sheraton; 5, Hepplewhite.
Since no piece of furniture is stronger than its weakest joint, it is important to observe that all joints be strong and genuine even though hidden. The legitimate use of screws, wedges, and glue has brought about such sound and inconspicuous joinery that there is no longer any excuse for wobbly, insecure furniture. In general, the tendency of modern furniture design is toward easily movable forms such as metal beds, closets instead of wardrobes, and various types of reed and willow furniture.
The parts of which furniture is composed should seem reasonable for the function which they are to perform. The legs of chairs and tables should not be heavy enough for porch posts like those in some pieces of mission furniture, nor should they be frail and "ladylike" as in the case of the little gilt parlor chair.
The woods most used in modern furniture are ash, oak, mahogany, walnut, and other woods finished to imitate these, also pine and whitewood for painted pieces. Bird's-eye maple and curly birch, being sport growths, should not be used as a structural furniture wood. Of these woods, oak is heavy, durable, susceptible to color modifications, easily kept in good condition, of a sturdy character, appropriate to everyday conditions, and not too expensive. Mahogany is durable, but needs much care, is too "dressy" in appearance for the stress of modern daily life, and is not so adaptable, except in its browner tones, to usual color schemes. Contrary to the usual belief, there is no intrinsic merit in the fact that a piece of modern furniture is called mahogany. Many of the best looking pieces are only birch stained red, or if made of the genuine wood are often less attractive than their birch substitutes. Only in antique pieces, valuable because they are good and not because they are old, and in modern copies or adaptations of fine design and finish, is the real sentiment and beauty of mahogany preserved. In general, oak is the most representative wood for modern furniture, just as black walnut was the typical wood in our mothers' day and mahogany in the day of our grandmothers.
Fig. 27. - Comfortable arm-chairs for general use.
The finish of all woods should be soft and dull, rubbed, not varnished. A shiny polish is often used to hide blemishes in the wood and is of a nature pertaining more to metals and to glass than to wood.
Types of furniture ugly in proportion, erratic in line, over-decorated in finish, that should be avoided.
There is much good painted or enameled furniture. It lends itself to charming and unusual color schemes. This finish is especially appropriate with the light clean effects so suitable in bedrooms in country homes, and in rooms with painted trim.
Willow, because of its elasticity, is an excellent material for seats, but not appropriate for tables, desks, beds and other furniture forms in which firmness and smoothness are essential qualities. Though not so durable as wood, willow is light in weight, has unlimited color possibilities, and fits satisfactorily into many varying types of furnishings. The simple designs are always the best.