We have already referred to the period beginning with the Restoration in 1660 as being very remarkable so far as furniture was concerned. It certainly was. It was not merely that new ideas of form and decoration were evolved, but that a far more advanced technique of craftsmanship was built up, one which belonged essentially to furniture as distinct from joinery and carpentry. In other words, it was the period when the cabinet maker came into being, the man who specialised in period of oak furniture making.
The coincidence of many things brought about the change. The austere habits of people during the Commonwealth underwent something like a revolution when Charles II ascended the throne. It was the swing of the pendulum from simplicity to extravagance. Charles had lived for many years on the continent, where conditions (so far as the wealthy classes were concerned) were, far more luxurious than here, and it was natural that foreign ideas should spread to this country when he came back as monarch. This influence, coming at the same time as the strong reaction already mentioned, set the stage, as it were, for a new standard of things.
Then again in a closely following reign another powerful foreign influence made itself felt. William III was a Dutchman, and, however good a king he was, he loved the surroundings to which he had been accustomed. Thus in a space bf some thirty years two events occurred which laid their mark on the crafts of England.
Thirdly, there was the introduction of walnut as a furniture wood, a material of far finer grain and of a milder nature than oak. It lent itself far more readily to finer workmanship, yet was quite as reliable (though it had not the same durable nature). To make a rough analogy, it was like a mason, who had known no other medium than a coarse sandstone, being given a piece of fine marble to carve. All sorts of possibilities were opened.
Finally, and possibly most important, there was the introduction of the art of veneering. As the reader probably knows, this consists of laying a thin sheet of wood, usually finely marked upon a groundwork of a less interesting but thoroughly reliable wood. It was something entirely new and presented all sorts of problems of which there was no previous experience. Whilst, on the one hand, it enabled all sorts of decorative effects to be obtained which could not be carried out in the solid, it necessitated methods of construction, the reliability (or otherwise) of which could only be proved by time. The craftsmen learnt much from foreign workmen who were already familiar with veneer but they had a good deal to find out for themselves, and they undoubtedly did make many mistakes as the large cracked or twisted panels of some of the work of the period show.
Taken all round then, there were plenty of circumstances to encourage a new departure in style and it is a thing that is obvious to anyone who makes a comparison between a cabinet made in the traditional oak style and one of walnut of the same period. Be it remembered that many craftsmen continued to work in oak especially in country districts right till the end of the seventeenth century and even later.