When choosing antique furniture it is important to know the styles and where they come from. Sometimes you will find a piece that looks like it is a certain style but is actually a replica. Replicas can be either high quality or machine made. Machine made replicas are highly symmetrical and smooth, where as higher quality pieces are hand crafted and aged intelligently.
The oldest style is Gothic, which means middle ages, castle furniture essentially. Gothic furniture is inspired by the architecture it was meant to be put near. This furniture focuses on simple lines and rarely has curved lines. It is very simple and crude, not to mention massive. This is very sturdy furniture so it would fit in well in a large house. A big value of the Gothic antique furniture style is that it is built to last.
The French antique furniture style is generally highly ornate. Louis XIV furniture is a prime example of this design approach. However, Louis XIV often costs too much to be effective for a whole decorating plan. If a piece of furniture looks very delicate and highly decorated with top quality hand carving, the chances are it is French. It was the French that actually created some of the first round dining tables. This was a preference of Napoleon because of his dislike of the long rectangular table and the host/hostess positions.
Italian furniture is simple yet classy. Usually with clean lines and corners, Italian antiques are larger than their French counterparts. They also prefer light brown stains and look good even after heavy use. One of the more stylish trends in replicas of Italian antiques is to show them with a heavy amount of intelligent distressing, to make them look like they have been handed down through multiple generations. Character marks like a depression showing where people lay their hands on the table, using several stains to simulate age and pockmarks from being bumped are examples of intelligent distressing.
One major difference between 18th and 19th century work is metal trim work, which was introduced in the 19th century. With the introduction of metal details and more advanced tool making at the time of the industrial revolution, hand carving became less popular. From the 19th century to early 20th century, most furniture was designed to be mass-produced in greater numbers. This major change also brought in the neoclassical antique furniture style. This style reflects back on Roman influences with black painted wood pieces with gold trim.
In England, a style called Regency emerged in the beginning of the 19th century. This style focuses on polished mahogany as a material. When mahogany is polished and turned into a tabletop, it takes on a very elegant and regal look. Some critics say that this antique furniture style is not compatible in a family setting where children might forget to use a coaster under their drinks. This would damage these more elegant and delicate pieces. However if you are interested in the Regency antique furniture style, and the look of royalty is key to your design, do not hesitate to use these fine pieces.
On a final note, be sure that the piece you get is in good condition. If the piece is from before the industrial revolution, you must be sure it has all the original hardware, as there is no way to replace hand made screws and hinges. By becoming educated in what to look for in the antique furniture style you love, you can be assured of getting some fine furniture pieces for your home.