There are so many antique furniture leg styles, it can get confusing. Reeded, cabriole, scroll, tapered, splayed. And how about a bulbous leg? Furniture leg styles can tell you a lot about the antique itself, its origins and inspiration. Therefore, this knowledge is very useful. In this blog, we will explain the styles of legs you may find on antique furniture from our collection. And to the question 'how sexy can furniture legs be?' Well, it is said that the prudish Victorians would cover them up for the sake of modesty!
Back in 1839, a Captain Frederick Marryat of the British Navy was writing a travelogue, of his travels in America. While visiting a girls' seminary, he observed the piano's legs were covered in little ruffled trousers. The headmistress told him this was to preserve the 'utmost purity of ideas' of the students. Somehow, this notion caught on with not much evidence to support it. Sadly, the truth is much less exciting. It is more likely the Victorians covered furniture legs to protect them from scratches and knocks. But we do love this story and wanted to showcase our shapely furniture legs to illustrate some different furniture leg styles.
Possibly the most popular of all furniture leg styles. The cabriole leg originated in the early to mid-18th century. Its shape imitates a goat's leg when jumping and features an outward-curving knee which sweeps inward to curved ankles. It usually has acanthus carving on the knee and ends in a decorative foot. The style is often associated with Chippendale and Queen Anne furniture.
As you would expect, the scroll leg is shaped like an old-fashioned paper or parchment scroll. It can be a single scroll or feature a scroll at the top and bottom. Sometimes they spiral in opposite directions and are beautifully elegant. Originating in the second half of the 17th century, this style can be seen in late Baroque furniture. Furthermore, it was favoured by King Charles II and his personal furniture maker, Gerrit Jensen. This furniture leg style is also known as S-scroll legs, (if the leg is curved in between the two scrolls), and double scroll legs.
With a reeded leg style, a series of raised, rounded ridges are carved vertically. They are inspired by ancient Greek and Roman design motifs. Popular at the turn of the 19th century they are seen on furniture in the Neoclassical, Regency, and Empire styles. Reeded legs are similar to the highly desirable fluted leg, but for one important design feature.
This furniture leg style is comparable to the reeded leg style, except its ridges are concave, as opposed to convex as seen on the reeded design. The fluted leg style is both graceful and elegant. Reminiscent of Greek columns, the style was incredibly popular. It featured in the Neoclassical styles of the late 18th century, such as Hepplewhite furniture and 19th-century Classical Revival styles.
The sabre leg style is named after the curved sword that its shape resembles. It is sometimes known as a splayed leg and flares out in a concave shape, tapering as it reaches the floor. The distinctive style itself dates to ancient times. However, it underwent a revival in the late 18th century and is seen on Sheraton, Regency and Empire pieces.
The spiral leg is also known as the barley twist, (especially in England), and the spiral twist. Resembling a twisted rope, it is believed to have originated in India. As trade in the region developed, the style made its way to Europe and the West in the 17th and 18th centuries. The style was first popular with Restoration and William and Mary furniture, and later with late Empire and Federal pieces. Then the Victorians embraced the spiral leg once more and used it on many Victorian era furniture.
The spider leg style is thin, delicate, and curved. Grouped together in threes or fours they cascade from a central pillar and resemble spider legs. They commonly featured on furniture from the late 18th and early 19th century and are popular to this day. The legs, are delicate and therefore support light furniture pieces such as tea tables and candle stands. Often featuring artistic inlay work and ornamentation this furniture leg style is elegant and dainty.
Extending Dining Table with Bulbous Carved and Tapering Fluted Legs
The bulbous leg style features a melon shaped section of the leg resembling a bulb or sometimes is bulbous in shape but slightly flattened. This style was popular during the early Renaissance in Holland, England, France, and Italy. But it was the Dutch who made it an outstanding characteristic of their furniture. The style features in many of The Past Perfect Collection's range of Dutch colonial furniture such as chests and cupboards.
The reeded inverted cup leg style is often highly decorative. Popular in the late 17th century this style is seen on many William and Mary furniture pieces. Resembling an upside-down cup these distinctive leg styles are elegant and refined. This British Colonial sofa has beautiful reeded inverted cup legs which end in a collared peg foot.
Antique furniture legs come in many shapes and styles. We hope we have helped to distinguish a sabre leg from a spider leg and a scroll from a spiral. Although we may be a little disappointed the story of the Victorians is untrue, we do believe these furniture legs should never be covered up. Furthermore, each one is unique and a testament to the skill of the craftsmen and artisans from past centuries. At The Past Perfect Collection, we are lucky to have many exceptional antiques in our collection that feature these furniture leg styles.