Writing Historical Fiction: Researching Period Furniture

The following photographs are pictures I took of period furniture displayed in the Maryland Historical Society. During the writing of the novel, I had to do a lot more research than this, but it gave me start.

bed and bed steps

Notice that the bed steps open up to reveal a potty seat — for when nature calls in the middle of the night. (I seem to be pursuing a theme this week!)


Bejamin Latrobe designed this chair for Dolley Madison to use in the drawing room of the President’s Mansion. (It wasn’t called the White House until after the War of 1812.)


Charles Pinkney, U.S. Attorney General, used this inkstand to write a draft of the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812.


I didn’t use anything like this particular piece of furniture in the novel, but I love the exuberance of this dressing table. The figures on the upper doors represented Commerce and Industry.


This armchair inspired me to choose teal upholstery for the furniture Betsy’s parents had in their drawing room.


I love the color combination on the Grecian couch. It helped me to realize that the color palette from Betsy’s time period wasn’t quite as somber as I might have assumed.


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8 responses to “Writing Historical Fiction: Researching Period Furniture

  1. Map of Time

    Interesting stuff. Love the “character” of the pieces.

  2. yubahome

    Love the colors. Federal blue, celadon …coral?

    Years ago, while taking a tour of Colonial Williamsburg, I was struck by the vivid colors on the walls: peacock blue, emerald greens, scarlet, etc. (Much different than I was expecting.) I was told by the guide that the discovery of Pompei was a big fashion influence.

  3. I’ve developed a personal fondness for fainting benches, though I’m unsure of their specific “era”. I’ve only “used” one in one writing instance, and it’s probably symbolic (as in, if I ever write book club questions/notes, it’ll be symbolic 😉 )

    • They are very cool. I’m not sure the full range of their era, but I know they existed during the French Empire. Using one symbolically would be interesting. I hope to see how you did it someday. I think I only referred to one once in the the novel, and that’s when Betsy meets her sister-in-law and Pauline is reclining in much the same pose she struck while being carved as a seminude Venus. (See Scandalous Pauline Bonaparte.)

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