The colonial American era provided more than just the groundwork for the development of the country: it also offered rich and distinctive styles in furniture-making. This period saw no less than five stylistic changes in interior modes of decoration, each with their own favored characteristics and trends. Between 1650 and 1820, the Pilgrim, William and Mary, Queen Anne, Chippendale, and Federal-Empire styles took center stage in the homes and businesses of early American settlers and their descendents. These styles were highly influenced by the knowledge of European furniture that settlers brought with them, some borrowing heavily from medieval and Renaissance designs, though they were refined to fit the needs and desires of American patrons.
Despite the impressive number of stylistic periods covered over the colonial era in American history, seating figured prominently throughout all of them them, as it provided insight into both social and economic structures of the time. Even the simplest of chairs were considered luxuries during this era, and anyone who sat on them were generally understood to be the most important person in the room. Visitors or others in the same room would typically have to share space on benches, which usually acted as bare sofas or couches.
All furniture during this period was created by hand, and each element of it was painstakingly made to the order of its owners. Typical furniture construction processes included the methods "turning" and "joining" wood, which saw individual pieces of wood being connected, or molded out of larger pieces, respectively. This custom-made process was too expensive for most of the population to afford, especially when it included intricate design elements, like those featured in the Federal-Empire style, or flourishes like carvings or fabrics. If a home featured seating at all, it was usually in the form of stools or benches ��� pieces that could be heartily constructed and moved to suit the day's needs. Couches and sofas were rare, largely because of the expenses associated with the manufacturing of such a sizable piece of furniture, and also because of the exorbitant costs of fabric. Access to fabrics was considered to be a great symbol of status, with even George Washington, the first American president, keeping artisans as slaves to ensure unfettered access to them for his clothes.
Daybeds, or the cousin to couches and sofas, were sometimes included in a person of means' furniture collection. While today, a daybed could indicate a lack of space in a home, in colonial America, the same piece of furniture implied that its owner was rich enough to offer guests a comfortable place to sleep, even if not his own private room.
Before the era of the sofa and couch overtook seating preferences, joint stools generally enjoyed the status of being the most common item sat on in a home. These were typically the most affordable of seating options, as they were constructed using the turning method, which was cheaper than the joining process. Predecessors to couches and sofas included chairs that featured leather seats for comfort. While a new resolve and appreciation for couches and sofas was born in the last century of the colonial period, comfort furniture typically remained the domain of the wealthy elite, and was rarely seen outside urban and port-side cities.