Mahogany Furniture: Quality and History

There is no doubt about it: Mahogany furniture is obviously high quality and beautiful. It is no wonder that it has maintained popularity for centuries. Designers recognize mahogany for its beautiful rich reddish-brown coloring, straight grain and incredible durability. A symbol of luxury and refinement, mahogany has been crucial to how furniture has been built in the last 400  years.

Mahogany is undeniably magnetic, and shines in a variety of antique furniture pieces. For example, this Antique French Scissors Stool is lush with history, but maintains a caliber of beauty that makes modern furniture furniture look flimsy in comparison.

Antique French Scissors Stool - Styylish
Check out this Antique French Scissors Stool- now available on Styylish.

However, there is more to acknowledge about this wood’s enduring legacy. Read on to uncover the species and beloved qualities of mahogany.

Elegant Designs Meet an Enduring Material

Craftsmen of the 1700’s found the hard, resilient, close-grain of the wood highly desirable and many of the most prized and highly valued furniture pieces in museums and royal homes today are made from mahogany.

This Pair of Empire Style Armchairs features fluted legs, and delicate detailing. The Empire style of this duo makes it easy to imagine them placed in an early 18th-century house. Under the influence of Napoleon, French designers wanted to use materials and silhouettes that highlighted the nation’s high-status and superiority.  It is no surprise that this extended to use of mahogany: enduring, strong, and expensive.

Pair of Empire Style Armchairs - Styylish
A delightful pair of Empire style chairs made with mahogany.

Mahogany Classification: Honduran Mahogany

“Mahogany” includees a handful of Meliaceae species that become timber. Some are considered “true mahogany”, while others are highly regarded as “genuine mahogany”. Genuine mahogany, as we recognize it today, includes three species of the genus Swietenia, native to the Americas.

Honduran mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), also known as or “big-leaf” mahogany,  is the only “genuine” species that is commercially grown today. It grows in regions from Mexico, to Brazil, to southern Amazonia.

The Environmental Problem

The negative impacts of harvesting mahogany grew with the material’s popularity. Years of illegal logging of macrophylla led to placement on an endangered species list under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES is a treaty that protects plants and animals from high-risk threats of international trade. 2003 was the first year that placed a high-value, high-volume tree on the list.

Mahogany production continues to face other issues. To start, the trees typically take about 25 years to reach full maturity, so forests are not quickly replenished. Secondly, attempts to repopulate have been relatively unsuccessful. Destructive moth interactions slow forest growth. Genetic mutations after mismanagement and illegal logging have caused a dwindling population. Finally, erosion in native lands prevent seeds from taking root.

This could have influenced the use of mixed-lumber materials in furniture creations. Something like this Biedermeier Wall Mirror, dating back to 1820, could potentially be a creative adaptation to limited lumber resources.

Biedermeier Wall Mirror - Styylish
Biedermeier Wall Mirror – now available on Styylish

The Cycle Continues: Marketing “Red Walnut”

Before harvesters ran into supply limitations with mahogany, they were managing another shortage. Furniture creators had sought after walnut timber for years.

From the late 17th century through the middle of the 18th century, walnut timber was the most desirable wood choice for furniture. Its captivating color, unique grain, and hardwood qualities made it a perfect fit for desired furniture.

Walnut trees were decimated in the 1730’s, and they became harder to purchase for furniture manufacturing. New exotic woods entered the market. High end cabinet makers shifted to mahogany, and marketed it as “red walnut” to appeal to the old-fashioned nobility. This English George II Lowboy likely would have been sold as such. This is quite ridiculous to imagine now, as mahogany wood is so highly revered in its own right.

Antique English George II Lowboy- Styylish
Antique English George Lowboy – now available on Styylish

Today, this piece makes a lovely side table next to a sofa or a bed. It can be in an entrance or on any wall with a nice lamp and painting or mirror above it.

Mahogany Furniture: Long-Lasting and Sturdy

Mahogany is an extremely durable wood that has many advantages as a furniture material. It’s solid and stable, fit for anything from doors and cabinets to chests and chairs. As well, it is less likely to warp, split or tear over the course of its life, when compared with soft wood such as pine, cedar or fir. In conversation with other hardwoods, mahogany is harder than oak, but softer than maple.

This fine Empire High Boy Dresser from the early 19th century has already been immaculately preserved for 200 years, and has been professionally refinished in our partner restoration workshop in Germany. It will certainly last another two centuries. Your bed room or living room area could surely benefit from a piece that will provide a considerate amount of storage space for your socks, sweaters or table cloth.

French High Boy Dresser- Styylish
French Empire High Boy Dresser- Available now on Styylish

Why Should I Buy Vintage or Antique Mahogany?

Now that we’ve deeply investigated the history of mahogany, it is important to note the benefits of mahogany in your home. How can you do this thoughtfully? Purchasing vintage and antique mahogany furniture.

You can enjoy the benefits of enduring, stunning timber without contributing to the destruction of an endangered resource. In truth, this is a thoughtful way to purchase furniture no matter the material. Utilize the craftsmanship of years past and incorporate historical pieces into your home. This is not only environmentally considerate, but a very effective investment and a wonderful way to give your interior decor an individual touch.

Imagine this Antique Empire Dining Table in your dining room. It is nearly impossible to find this caliber of quality in modern furniture. We learned more about the history of dining tables in a former blog post! Read more here.

Empire Dining Table- Styylish
A German Empire Dining Table – available now on Styylish

Antique Mahogany Furniture: A Clear Answer

Now, we’ve looked back on the history of mahogany furniture, as well as all of its wonderful attributes. All in all, it is clear that the best way to take advantage of this material, trusted over decades, is to buy it antique. These items will surely provide character and authenticity to your furniture collection.

Additionally, they will help you avoid more unsustainable practices for the sake of furniture. Finally, furniture made with mahogany will last for generations. Thankfully, Styylish has an array of options for including this gorgeous wood into your home.

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