Types of feet on antique furniture

The different types of feet on antique furniture can help us identify the age of a piece and in some cases, help us identify the maker.

(1) pad feet. 

The most common type. They are easily identified by their three legs which sit on the floor and surround a circular felt or rubber pad.

They are called ‘pad’ feet because they have a small piece of felt or rubber surrounding the bottom of each leg. The pad protects the flooring underneath from scratches, scuffs, and other damage caused by the furniture.

(2) cabriole legs:

Often seen on 18th-century furniture, these have a similar design to a wavy stick bar stool leg and therefore point outward from the body of the piece at an angle.

Cabriole legs are found on both antique furniture and modern furniture. They can be found on sofas, armchairs, chairs and are often seen as a leg shape with a curved front and straight back.

Many people assume that the term ‘cabriole leg’ is interchangeable with all tree-shaped legs; however, this is only half the story. 

This myth has come about because of the incorrect assumption that all, antiqued furniture, was created in the 1700s. 

The cabriole leg shape has been used in furniture since at least the 16th century, if not earlier.

The term cabriole leg could refer to several furniture leg shapes. Not only those with high curved fronts. Examples of other pieces, that feature the ‘cabriole’ leg shape can include kitchen chairs, nightstands, and even some computer desks. 

If it has a curved front and straight back, it may well fit the description of a cabriole leg! 

Another explanation for this myth could be due to the origins of the word itself; ‘cabriole’. 

The term is French in origin and can be defined as ‘a leaping goat’ or ‘a ballerina’ Which makes perfect sense when you observe the shape of a cabriole leg from the side.

(3) ball and claw feet:

Rather ornate style that features a rounded foot with upturned points which resemble claws grabbing onto the ground below. 

The earliest examples date back to 1550. Pairs of curved metal claws attached to a central wooden ball top comprise this style of table foot decoration.

Ball and claw (ostrich foot) is a term used especially for chairs & tables with feet that look like an ostrich’s leg with claws. A ball and claw table have three elements: 

  • 1) a flat circular top
  • 2) sturdy pedestal
  • 3) single or double claws underneath.

The “ball and claw” was a design developed in the Middle Ages, predominately used on furniture from the Italian Renaissance. The most well-known example of this style is their use on chairs.

In particular, they can be found at the ends of the front legs of chairs that have a centered X-shaped stretcher between the legs. 

The ball and claw motif appears in many woodworking styles: German, French, Italian, and English. And commonly found on antique cabinets and sideboards.

The term “ball & claw” is sometimes confused with the term monkey’s fist. However, a monkey’s fist has no claws and is purely a decorative ball at the end of a rope. 

Ball and claw feet can be shaped several ways: with or without claws, raised or flat-bottomed.

(4) bun feet:

These flat, rounded feet are often found on mid-19th century furniture.

The shape that these feet take can be very simple or they can be more ornately carved, and take on a style all their own

Most of the time, they are found on pieces that were made in England or America between 1750 and 1850. They can be made from a variety of hardwood, but cherry is a favorite.

It is said that the origin of the bun foot may have been earlier than their first documented appearance around 1790.

They were always carved on the underside of the piece to protect them from wear and tear at the entranceway or stairway where they frequently resided. Although they are only slightly elevated from the floor, bun feet were designed to make a piece of furniture appear taller.

In earlier examples made before 1800, you will see two sets of buns on one leg as shown here.  

This is because it would be too difficult for craftsmen at that time to cut out all four legs from one solid board or plank for a chair or table.

Later, the design of mass-produced furniture made it possible to use one board and cut all four legs from it.

This is why after 1800, you will see only two bun feet on each leg.  

(5) square tapering legs

Square tapering legs are found on antique furniture from Egypt, Rome, and Greece as well as on early European furniture. In the 18th century, they gradually fell from grace as neoclassical design established a more angular look for furniture.

During the late Louis XV period, some furniture makers started to revive square tapering legs but the majority stuck to the more traditional curved legs for most furniture types. The square tapering leg reappeared in various guises but never again did they become a major design feature in France. View of Taper Legs from below – Image by Hockley

In England, however, there was a much stronger tradition in favor of square tapering legs, and they remained a major feature of English furniture for more than 200 years. 

This may be because unlike French design which changed every time there was a change of King. English furniture retained the same basic forms from one century to another. With only minor changes in decoration and upholstery. Making it possible to pass on furniture with very little change of design between generations.

(6) bun & claw feet

A variation of the ball and claw style. These types of feet are also called Cone Feet and Ball Feet, as by various other names such as knobbed feet, ringed feet, bun knobs, and ball tips.

Ball tips were often used on Bentwood furniture by Thonet, which dates back to the early 19th century.

Claw Feet are seen on drop-leaf tables and coffee tables, base cabinets, dressers, china cabinets, hutches, and other furniture, where a distinctive bold look is desired. And can be used on modern pieces for both their mid-century modern and contemporary lines.

Used in the Art Deco period. Usually in conjunction with curvilinear (soft, flowing) furniture designs. The spheres gave a smooth transition or terminus to the otherwise curved leg or side of an end table, coffee table, or desk.

(7) cylindrical

Cylindrical styled columns that consist of three legs joined together at a point where they then rise upward into a smooth round cylinder. These types of feet can be seen on some French-style furniture.

(8) single conical cap

A single conical foot at the end of an upright leg which is generally seen on French and English-inspired furniture from the 18th century.

(9) ball and claw & swan neck – like

This type of table leg also features two sets of claws winding around it. But this time, they meet up with a second set of curved feet, similar to those found on swans’ necks, connecting to the bottom of the legs as well. The elaborate triple ball and claw design were popular during the 19th century.

(10) round bun feet

The round bun foot was a popular design during the 18th and 19th centuries. They are typically found on mahogany furniture made in England, hence why they are often referred to as English legs. The main purpose of this leg is to keep the furniture looking light while providing sturdy support.

  • * Elegant and sturdy
  • * Suitable for all types of furniture, especially delicate pieces or those with round surfaces, such as small tables.
  • – Low-cost alternative to other traditional legs. Low profile matches even lower table heights, making furniture appear lighter.
  • – Finished in a satin lacquer that gives the leg a slightly shiny appearance.
  • – Great at hiding low-quality or old repairs.
  • – The multiple small legs create a more stable design than if it was made from a single piece of wood, making it perfect for delicate tables and chairs.
  • – Often used to make bun feet look like cabriole legs – one of the most difficult to re-create furniture legs in the business.
  • – Typically made using mahogany or walnut, two very dark species that match perfectly with the rounded leg design.
  • – Can be used on almost any type of furniture, even modern pieces. However, they are most suitable for more classical designs where lightness is crucial or delicate materials are being used.
  • – Great for replacing older ball feet with a sleeker, more sophisticated appearance.
  • – Should not be used on very large pieces where the leg needs to carry too much weight. A round bun foot can’t handle as much pressure as other furniture legs and may eventually break and cause damage to the floor or furniture.

(11) turned:

Any type of cylindrical leg formed with the use of a lathe and cut out to create an ornamental pattern.

(12) tripod

Three wooden or metal legs which come together at the top, often featuring carved details on each leg. Another term for this style of furniture foot is tripodal. 

Some furniture is designed with metal feet, but they are not riveted directly onto the surface; instead, four holes are drilled into each corner of the wooden table or chest which act as anchor points for studs between the legs for additional support.

(13) ogee bracket

Can be used to extend the surface area of a table or cabinet. So it does not easily tip over. Ogee feet were often found on pedestals, tables, and chairs, as well as cabinets. They provided balance to the piece they were attached to; giving added support for those who sat at them or leaned up against them.

Rounded ogee bracket feet with quatrefoils in the center add a regal look to any piece of furniture, while square ogee feet provide a more contemporary look.

An integral part of the ogee bracket foot is the decorative “spur” that projects below the bracket. Its wide, flat base provides stability to furniture pieces that would easily tip over without them. This spur not only adds visual interest but balances out the ogee curves.

The ogee curved form creates a soft profile on both sides of the furniture. The gentle curves add fluidity to pieces that would otherwise be heavy and static. They add interest and depth while still allowing for solid support.

 This design has been documented from as early as 1620.

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