The history of southern furniture is an unfortunate one. Many items not stolen or destroyed during the Civil War were destroyed by our oldest aggressors, heat and humidity.
Progress is only now being made in cataloging and preserving southern-designed, southern-made furniture. While I'm glad about that, it does not make antique buying easy.
Many southern wives in their 20's and 30's are trying to outfit our homes with antique pieces, and most want to do so in an authentic southern style. But what does that really mean? While many choose pieces that look southern: Victorian panel beds, Empire oak, etc. These pieces are from up north and were as mass-produced as anything you'll find in department stores today. So, what comes closest to the pieces in southern homes 200 years ago?
Unless you are able and willing to outfit your home in solid, West Indies mahogany, English walnut, or oak, you may wish to consider the painted furniture of Sweden. While it is authentic in neither line nor aesthetic, it is quite, quite close. The proportions are especially close, and painted furniture is historically accurate to the antebellum south.
Southern Painted Furniture
Southern humidity is a furniture killer and a bug's heaven. These two facts of southern life left few furniture options. Many true southern antebellum homes had painted pieces in white and light, light colors. The paint worked to protect the wood from moisture and bugs, and it provided a cool, serene respite from the hot southern sun.
In southern homes fabric choices are taken very seriously, as these must accommodate our heat and humidity, too. Our toiles, plaids, florals, and checks work beautifully with these pieces. While not traditionally used, many choose to decorate with mattress ticking and seersucker, too.
Swedish antiques can work in a variety of decorating styles. You can find pieces that are plain and austere or really ornate. The paint colors are unbelievable. It is not a dull milk paint white, nor is it a shocking, fresh from the spray can white. It has this gauzy, lit-from-within quality in shades ranging from pale, pale grays to blue/whites.
What I love best is the genius of proportion. Pieces can be very tall, but then quite narrow, or very wide, but seven feet tall and only 19 inches deep. The beautifully carved pieces illustrate the fact that these pieces need not be simperingly sweet nor cloying. The lines are lean and graceful and appropriate for a southern home.
These pieces are made for storage, which is great for those with young families. Large pieces are pretty used in formal dining rooms, living rooms, or even master bathrooms, as the paint can protect the piece from humidity.
Swedish sideboards will both brighten and traditionalize a dining room. Paired with a trestle or even a traditional Gustavian table, the look is fresh and timeless.
Southern Little Girl
This is a favored look for a little girl's room. Paired with pretty sages, blues, pinks, peaches, or yellows in delicate florals, gingham, plaid, or stripes, this says Old South like few other antiques can.
No Victorian panel beds here.