Sunday, February 22, 2015


As luck would have it, I was dropping off one of my girls' friends and the Mom came out to the car.  She looked at me(At this point, she knows nothing about me) and asked if I was interested in any of the refuge from cleaning out her Mom's garage.  I told her thank you, but I was only interested in furniture.
Two hours later, my daughter showed me a picture on a cell phone message.  Her girlfriend wanted to know if I was interested in a junky piece of furniture.  Interested?????  And it was free!!  That was a bonus.  Feeling a bit guilty, I made a delicious cinnamon apple cake for her.  My sister, Karen gave me this recipe years ago.   It is my most favorite coffeecake.
  I will share it with you on another blog.  Ok, now back to my latest project.
It is a beautiful gently used Duncan Phyfe square table.  Sure it has some lose joints and maybe a major knick here and there, but it was gorgeous.  I  am sure that it is not an original, but even so, the distinct design lends itself to one.
Born Duncan Fife near Loch Fannich, Scotland, he emigrated with his family to Albany, New York in 1784 and served as a cabinetmaker’s apprentice.[2]
In 1791 he moved to New York City[2] and one year later is documented the earliest mention of him in the city, when he was elected to the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, sponsored by Isaac Nichols and Seabury Champlin, either of whom may have trained him.

Shop and warehouse on 168-172 Fulton Street, New York city.
By the time of his marriage in 1793, he appears in the New York directories as a "joiner," but by 1794 he called himself "cabinetmaker" and had changed the spelling of his name to Phyfe. He opened his own business in 1794 and was listed as a cabinetmaker in the New York Directory and Register. From his first shop on 2 Broad Street, he later moved to Partition street (later renamed Fulton Street in 1817 in honor of Robert Fulton), where he stayed for the rest of his life.
A poor immigrant when he arrived in America from his native Scotland, Phyfe acquired wealth and fame through hard work, exceptional talent and the support of patrons. He would come to count among his clients some of the nation's wealthiest and most storied families. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century he made Neoclassical furniture for the social and mercantile elite of New York, Philadelphia, and the American South where he was particularly popular. Known during his lifetime as the "United States Rage", to this day remains America's best-known cabinetmaker.[3] Establishing his reputation as a purveyor of luxury by designing high-quality furniture.
His personal style, characterized by superior proportions, balance, symmetry, and restraint, became the New York local style. Many apprentices and journeymen exposed to this distinctive style by serving a stint in the Phyfe shop or by copying the master cabinetmaker's designs helped to create and sustain this local school of cabinetmaking. Demand for Phyfe's work reached its peak between 1805 and 1820, although he remained a dominant figure in the trade until 1847, when he retired at the age of seventy-seven. Within the short span of a single generation, however, the work of the master was all but forgotten until the revival in the 1920s, when different furniture companies replicate his designs throughout several decades.
He became known as one of America's leading cabinetmakers by selling furniture at relatively low prices. Phyfe’s work encompassed a broad range of the period’s Neoclassical styles, starting from his earliest furniture— which bear the influence of his 18th-century British predecessors Thomas Sheraton and Thomas Hope— continuing with Regency, Federal, Empire and ending with his late simplified designs in the Grecian plain style.

James Duncan Phyfe, his second son.
Between 1837 and 1847, Duncan Phyfe took his two sons, Michael and James, as business partners and the firm went under the names D. Phyfe & Sons (1837–1840) and after Michael's premature death, D. Phyfe & Son (1840–1847). It was during the latter and final stages of the business’s history that perhaps the greatest challenge Phyfe ever faced emerged; how to cope with the new wave of historical revival styles. In 1840, one Southern planter who came to New York from Columbia, South Carolina, observed to his wife in a letter that the Phyfes were “as much behind the times in style as (they were) in price.” This is because the Phyfes always adhered to the classicist language until the end,[4] they never fully engaged with the emerging historical revival styles (e.g. Baroque, Gothic, Rococo, etc.) that began about 1840.
Because Phyfe's furniture was seldom signed,[3] yet widely imitated, it is sometimes difficult to determine with accuracy which works he actually made.

What stands out to me is the violin-like embellishment that I have seen on many vintage pieces of furniture.  Many dining room chairs displayed this design in the back of the chair.  I believe my grandmother had a Duncan Phyfe dining room set and matching buffet.
 I don't have a plan yet, but I know that I will paint it.  You will just have to wait and see.

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