Who Is Duncan Phyfe?


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Duncan Phyfe, originally Duncan Fife, was a Scottish-born cabinetmaker and furniture designer. He was a leading advocate for the Neoclassical style of furniture and one of the most distinguished cabinetmakers of the 19th century. Although Phyfe didn't introduce a new furniture style, he had a unique interpretation of fashionable European furniture styles. He is credited with introducing a unique blend of the Neoclassical and Regency styles.

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Phyfe was one of the first American cabinetmakers to incorporate the factory method into his furniture workshop. In Phyfe’s workshop, each craftsman performed a specific set of tasks, depending on his training. Also, Phyfe’s work changed with the times. At the turn of the 19th century, Phyfe’s workshop was producing furniture in the Regency, Sheraton and French Directoire styles. By 1825, his workshop had changed to the Empire style, producing pieces that featured massive claw feet. By the 1840s, it was producing pieces in the Late Grecian, Rococco and Gothic revival styles. All of Phyfe’s furniture was decorated with low relief carvings of typical ornaments from that time period including lyres, harps, fasces and lion masks.

Phyfe was born in Scotland in 1768 and moved with his family to Albany, New York, in 1784. In Albany, he worked as an apprentice cabinetmaker and eventually opened a furniture shop. His business grew and succeeded, and in 1847, he sold it and retired. He died in 1854 with an estimated fortune of about $500,000.

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