Duncan Phyfe left an indelible mark on American furniture and design. Born in 1768, Phyfe moved his family from Scotland to Albany, N.Y., in 1784 to apprentice as a cabinetmaker. His most recognized and imitated works — a combination of English and French Neoclassical dubbed “American Empire” — are characterized by his trademark acanthus-leaf carvings, Greek-and-Roman decorative motifs, and brass-tipped caster feet sitting below turned legs or pedestals.
Catering to the popular tastes of the time, his style changed with the whims of his socialite clients. His later work is considerably heavier than his earlier work and is made mostly of Redwood, not his beloved Cuban Mahogany. His exquisitely veneered early work in the style of English furniture maker Thomas Sheraton, has earned him a place as one of America’s greatest cabinetmakers, but it’s his client-driven Empire designs for which he’s best remembered.