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Duncan Phyfe

Phyfe, Duncan (fĪf) [key], c.1768–1854, American cabinetmaker, b. Scotland. He emigrated to America c.1783, settling at Albany, N.Y., where he was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker. In the early 1790s he established a shop in New York City for the production of furniture; after several moves he finally settled in Partition St. (later changed to Fulton St.). He first spelled his name Fife but c.1793 adopted the form Phyfe. He made chairs, sofas or settees, tables, and sideboards, using in great part solid mahogany but also some mahogany veneer, satinwood and maple, and, in later years, rosewood. During his most productive period (until 1820) he was influenced by, and adapted the forms of, the Adam brothers, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton and characteristics of the French Directoire and Consulate styles. Later, his designs followed the Empire style, becoming in his final period heavy, overornamented, and to a great degree characterless. Phyfe employed in general the highest standards, applied under supervision to carefully selected woods. His first designs are characterized by excellent proportions, graceful curves often accentuated by parallel rows of reeding, simple ornaments well placed and carved with precision, and decorative motifs such as the lyre, the acanthus or oak leaf, and the drapery swag. Although much furniture termed Phyfe may not have been produced in his workshop, his designs were the nucleus of the Duncan Phyfe style.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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