You know a “primitive” chair or table when you see one—whether an authentic antique or a reproduction fashioned in the style of 19th-century rural furniture, a primitive piece has been handmade with an eye to function instead of form, to clean lines instead of aesthetic acrobatics.
In their book Passion for Primitives: Folk Décor for Interior Design, Franklin and Esther Schmidt use numerous photographs of homes, rooms and vignettes to explain the nature of primitive pieces and their potential roles in contemporary, country and other design styles. Though primitive furniture is “structurally basic,” the authors assert that “even these most simple furnishings could be elegant in their lines and proportions.”
Use a Primitive as a Counterpoint in a Victorian Room
Simple and unadorned, many primitive pieces at the outset don’t seem ideal candidates for inclusion in a Victorian-style home, with its ornately carved table legs, thick crown molding and lavish chandeliers. But the Schmidts explain that a primitive piece’s “accidental art” actually fulfills a vital role in a room’s décor: the need for “a counterpoint—an accent piece—to avoid a sense of sameness and a stagnant quality to the space.” Adding a primitive’s rough texture or warm color to a stylish Victorian room creates a robust 19th-century feel.
When hunting for the perfect primitive for your Victorian décor, prioritize texture and structure. Arrange a primitive piece with glowing patina—a worn wooden surface you want to reach out and touch—next to an elegant, smooth piece, such as a rustic table between two leather wing chairs for a “European country” look with rich “texture and charm.” Also look for primitive pieces that share structural characteristics with your favorite Victorian ones.
“Homespun artisans sometimes included their version of a Queen Anne-style foot on a table, a Chippendale-style scroll, an imitation Hepplewhite tapering table leg or just a graduating set of drawers on a bureau because they saw it once,” the authors point out. Choosing a handmade primitive table, chair or decoration that imitates the height of 1800s style infuses a traditional Victorian room with homey comfort, whether high style or country farmhouse.
By Elaine K. Phillips
Photography by Franklin and Esther Schmidt, from the book Passion for Primitives