Thursday, 14 November 2013

How to identify genuine French furniture

Whilst authentic French furniture is very distinctive, reproduction pieces have flooded the UK market in recent years. The thirst for all things French has led to a flurry of mass produced 'French' beds, armoires and buffets. These pieces, which aim to capture the essence of French style, are often poorly made and tend to retail at higher prices than originals. 

Since starting our business in November 2011 we have invested a lot of time in gaining knowledge about the items we sell. French furniture is unique in its quality, craftsmanship and style. 

Detail from an authentic Demi Corbeille French Bed 

Some sellers may unwittingly sell reproduction pieces believing them to be genuine, however, for the buyer the difference is huge. Authentic French furniture is a great investment. Genuine pieces will always hold their value, and more often than not, the value of pieces will increase. Before making any purchase make sure you ask the following questions: 

1. What Type Of Wood Is It?

Most vintage and antique French furniture is made of oak, chestnut or cherry wood. You will occasionally find pine pieces but they are not as common as in British furniture of the same era. If a piece is stated as being pine, make sure you double check all the other signs outlined below, particularly if the item is painted. Any piece that has a suspiciously 'orange' coloured pine interior should raise concerns!

2. What does it look like inside?

Interior of a genuine painted pine French armoire

Looking inside an armoire, vitrine, buffet or chevet can tell you a great deal about its age and provenance. This is especially important if the item has been painted. Sadly there are some unscrupulous sellers out there who will try and pass off a cheap pine wardrobe as a French armoire.

All genuine French furniture will show its age inside and out. Wood will often have an aged colour/appearance and quirks. Genuine provincial pieces were hand made and you can see the craftsmanship. Later 'revival' pieces, whilst newer, will still have signs of wear and use. 

Perhaps one of the most common tell tale signs is evidence of previous woodworm infection. It's rare to find a piece of genuine French furniture without a single worm hole!

3. What do the handles look like?

Authentic antique French armoires will usually have beautiful adornments, such as brass escutcheons and detailed handles. 

Dealers who specialise in British Edwardian and Victorian furniture will often be able to easily age a piece by the handles. This is also true of French furniture. British and French handles are uniquely different. 

  A handle from a Henri II style French armoire C. 1890 to 1910. 

 A handle from a French Louis revival armoire C. 1970

4. What do the door hinges look like?

 Detail of door hinges from two provincial French  armoires C. 1850 to 1890

Probably the biggest tell tale sign of all! French furniture does not have screw in hinges, as British furniture does. Older French armoires and buffets will have beautiful brass door hinges which simply slide onto the outside frame. Fantastic craftsmanship which doesn't require a screwdriver! 

More modern revival pieces will have no visible hinges at all. Instead they sit on 'pivots' which slot into the base and which allow them to open and close. Like older armoire and buffet doors they simply lift out of the frame with no screws involved.

Does it come apart? 

Nearly all French armoires are 'knockdown', this phrase means they are designed to knock down into smaller, more manageable pieces, making them easy to transport. Some genuine sellers may not know whether a piece knocks down but you can tell by looking at the inside. Older, provincial and L0uis Philippe style armoires will be held together with small wooden pegs. Use a torch to look at the areas where the joints meet, if small round peg ends are visible the item is genuine. 

French revival armoires are assembled using large bolt screws. These should be clearly visible where the cornice meets the sides, and at the base. 

If the armoire has no signs of being knockdown ask the seller for more clarification on the age and provenance of the piece.

The Author

Ali Stokes is the owner of the UK based online boutique Dazzle Vintage Furniture. The website specialises in selling authentic French furniture and accessories which have been imported from France. 


  1. Really helpful piece with lots of info for us bargain hunters in France! Merci...

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