International colonial styles


May 22, 1994|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Not many years ago, when someone in the United States spoke of Colonial furniture, the term was generally understood to refer to American Colonists' adaptations of 17th- and 18th-century Dutch and English styles.

Elsewhere in the world, however, the term "colonial furniture" carries different associations. Colonial furniture in Africa, Asia and Latin America reflects a time in which craftsmen made furniture in the styles that were then popular in whatever European country ruled the colony.

In many instances, they were working in cultures that had developed distinctive aesthetics. Consequently, the furniture built by native craftsmen for the homes of colonizers was not simply a copy from a Western European pattern book. Instead, many such pieces exhibit a unique blend of European taste, local materials and traditional styles.

What's especially intriguing, however, is that the "planter style" -- whether Dutch colonial or Anglo-Indian -- is similar in lands far distant from one another.

Part of the reason may be that commonly used materials, such as mahogany and rosewood, can be taken from tropical forests in various parts of the world. And different types of furniture tend to take on a related appearance when they are made from the same type of wood.

Since many of today's stylish interiors comprise the exotic, the minimal and the functional, it's no wonder that colonial furniture from outside North America is very much in vogue.

Until recently, an American had to travel to England or the Netherlands even to see, let alone buy, examples of this kind of furniture. But because the look is now so "hot," the domestic commercial market has begun turning out some lovely reproductions.

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