Federal style ...... Empire style ....... Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary

Duncan Phyfe

New York City became extremely important after the Revolution as an arbiter of American taste. Several cabinetmakerswho had emigrated from Europe settled in New York and had a considerable impact. Most prominent of all was Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854), one of the most famous names in Americancabinetmaking.

Born in Scotland, Phyfe came to New York City in about 1794 and established a cabinet shop. His firm continued under the name Duncan Phyfe & Sons until 1847,when Phyfe retired, having accumulated a sizable fortune. Phyfe's shop was located at 35 Partition (now Fulton) Street.

Phyfe's work at the turn of the 19th century reflected the designs of Sheraton, although slightly after 1800, he came under the influence of French Directoire design.

He preferred the rich mahogany from Cuba and Santo Domingo and combined these with carefully cut veneered panels for dramatic effects. After 1830, though, Phyfe tended to favor the more fashionable rosewood.

Factory method: Phyfe was one of the first American cabinetmakers to successfully incorporate the factory method into the cabinet workshop. At one time he employed up to one hundred men. He employed master craftsmen, journeymen, andapprentices, as well as carvers, turners, and upholsterers; each craftsman performed the operation for which he was best trained. Because of this division of labor, it is more correct to refer to the "school" or "workshop" of Duncan Phyfe, rather than to attribute the furniture directly to him.


Phyfe's name is synonymous with high quality furniture, mainly at first in the Federal Sheraton style. However, in New York, the French Empire influence with sweeping curved lines became too obvious to ignore. While other American cities continued to produce furniture in the Federal style, New York cabinetmakers began to create pieces in the Empire style. Duncan Phyfe was the most important individual to introduce the Empire style in this city.

Other forms popularized by Phyfe included the following:

Common motifs which appear on his work include the following:

During the latter part of his life, Phyfe turned to Victorian styles.


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