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Which is darker provincial or early American?

When it comes to furniture styles, two popular traditional options are provincial and early American. Both styles evoke a sense of comfort and familiarity, but there are some key differences between the two. One major point of distinction is the darkness of the wood tones typically used in provincial and early American furniture.

What is Provincial Furniture?

Provincial furniture originated in the French countryside during the 17th and 18th centuries. It is characterized by simple, practical designs and light coloring. The woods used in provincial style are usually light to medium in tone, such as fruitwoods like cherry, pear, and apple. Unpainted provincial furniture shows off the natural reddish-brown patina of these woods.

Common provincial furniture pieces include armoires, cabinets, tables, and chairs. The carvings and ornamentation tend to be minimal, with just simple curves and rosettes adorning the legs and aprons. Turned spindles are also a familiar provincial element.

What is Early American Furniture?

Early American furniture emerged in the Northeastern United States during the colonial era of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was influenced by English, Dutch, and French design. Early American style also tends to be simple and functional. It was made from the abundant wood species native to North America.

Some typical woods used in early American furniture are maple, cherry, walnut, and pine. This gave the pieces darker wood tones compared to provincial styles. Mahogany imported from the West Indies was also a prized furniture wood in early America for its reddish-brown hue.

Common early American furniture forms include tables, chairs, chests of drawers, desks, and sideboards. The decor is relatively plain, with simple applied moldings. Turned legs and stretchers are characteristic accents.

Comparing Wood Tones

When examining provincial and early American furniture, the clear distinction is the darker wood tones seen in early American styles versus the lighter fruitwoods typical of provincial. Here is an overview of how they compare:

Furniture Style Common Wood Types Tone
Provincial Cherry, pear, apple Light reddish-brown
Early American Cherry, walnut, mahogany Darker reddish-brown

Cherry is a common element, but it naturally exhibits a deeper, richer red hue in early American furniture than in provincial pieces. Walnut and mahogany, frequently used in early American but not provincial, also lean dark. They add undertones of chocolate brown.

What Factors Influence the Darkness?

Why do these two historical furniture styles display such different wood tones? Here are some factors that contribute to the darker hues found in early American furniture:

  • Native North American Woods: The woods native to the Eastern United States where early American furniture originated, like walnut and cherry, tend to be darker than the fruitwoods common in French provincial furniture.
  • Age and Patina: As wood ages, it takes on a darker, richer patina. The great age of many early American antiques adds to their darkened tone.
  • Stain: Early American furniture was often stained to accentuate the grain patterns and enrich the color. Provincial pieces were generally left unstained.
  • Environment: The cold winters and humid summers of North America may encourage deeper coloring in native woods compared to the milder climate of France.

These influences all contribute to the deeper wood hues found in antique early American furniture compared to provincial antiques from France.

ExaminingExamples of Each Style

To further illustrate the difference in wood tones, let’s examine some examples of common provincial and early American furniture forms and see how their woods compare:

Provincial Furniture

  • Armoire: French provincial armoires are traditionally crafted from fruitwoods like cherry or pear. Unstained, they display the pale reddish-brown patina of these woods.
  • Table: A French farmhouse table made of unadorned cherry or applewood will have a light golden or pinkish-brown tone.
  • Chair: Rush-seated provincial chairs made from fruitwoods have a washed-out, almost blond appearance.

Early American Furniture

  • Chest of Drawers: An 18th century American chest of drawers in cherry or walnut will be a rich, warm reddish-brown.
  • Desk: An early American carved mahogany desk has a distinctive reddish-brown or purplish-brown color.
  • Windsor Chair: Chairs handcrafted from cherry or walnut in colonial America display a dark, inviting tone.

These examples showcase how early American varieties of classic furniture forms tend to be crafted from intrinsically darker woods or finished to accentuate deeper wood grains.

How to Get the Early American Look

If you want furniture with the dark wood character of early American antiques, here are some tips:

  • Choose wood species like cherry, walnut, or mahogany, which display richer natural coloring.
  • Select wood with minimal grain patterns to achieve a darker, more saturated tone.
  • Use a stain with undertones matching the shade you desire, like red, brown, or ebony.
  • Apply a darkening finish, such as tung oil.
  • Look for furniture intentionally styled after early American pieces to get authentic details.

With the right techniques, you can get that quintessential deep, warm early American wood look.


When comparing provincial and early American antique furniture styles, early American designs stand out for their darker wood tones. Factors like wood species, age, staining, and climate all contribute to the deeper reddish-brown hues characteristic of this furniture. Cherry, walnut, and mahogany are typical early American woods, while provincial pieces favor lighter apple, pear, and unstained cherry. For contemporary furniture with the rich look of early American antiques, choosing certain woods and finishes can enhance the dark, cozy style that sets this period apart.