Oak is one of the most well-known timbers for furniture use. Oak furniture has been around for thousands of years. The properties of oak make it desirable for furniture- it is hard-wearing, heavy, very durable, and has a very attractive grain. It also has water-resistant properties and is easy to work with.
We believe the first furniture in Europe was made from oak, this is not surprising as oak was the most common tree growing around. People did not use to travel very much and would use what was easy to hand. It was usually the wealthy who had any kind of furniture.
The first kinds of furniture consisted of benches and roughly hewn tables. They were very basic rectangular designs, with no design or aesthetic element, and purely functional.
As societies developed so their furniture changed. As the middle classes grew wealthier furniture was no longer purely functional. People started having possessions and discovered that chests were a place to keep them. Cupboards were originally just shelves cupboards and were a place to keep kitchen cups and utensils.
From Mediaeval times furniture became more decorative, it was still mostly functional but would be carved and commemorative dates would be added to record the time the furniture was acquired or the reason. Skilled craftsmen who had to undergo many years of apprenticeship and training were employed to design and build this oak furniture.
Oak was often used for wall paneling - as a decorative feature and also to keep the drafts out. There are many notable examples of oak wall panels such as those in the British House Of Commons. Oak was generally left to age and its coloring was often dark.
The use of oak as a furniture material declined in the 1600s as the fashion was to use lighter woods.
In America, the American Arts and Crafts movements revived the use of oak as furniture material. Oak is very common in the US and there are white and red varieties of oak available. Mission oak furniture with its clean simple lines grew popular and is still popular today.
In Europe, between the wars, contemporary oak furniture made an appearance. There was little oak available due to the effects of the wars and oak was protected for a time. This led craftsmen to find ways of using materials that were minimalist in terms of the amount of wood required. The furniture was designed to be functional but very much lighter than before.
Oak regained popularity in the 1980s when cabinet makers began using oak to commission work and commercial companies again followed the trend. There is now a large range of designs available in oak and with very varying colors, as oak is a timber that takes color well.
Today you can buy anything from oak bedroom furniture to oak office furniture and even outdoor furniture made from oak. There are many different styles from antique reproduction to mission to very modern sleek designs
Whatever kind of oak furniture you would like you will be able to find or commission. Whilst oak furniture is undoubtedly not the cheapest furniture around it will, as history shows us, last for many lifetimes.