By: Jean Tyson

 

Florida Palm Frond Furniture found its way into motels and homes around the state from the turn of the 20th century through the 1950’s. The first furniture makers are presumed to be African Americans. Their stands and tables were simply made and resembled the bamboo and rattan furniture imported from the orient. The natural materials, light and airy construction, simple curved designed elements and minimal need for upholstery appealed to the buyers, their pocketbooks, and their desires to move away from the "gingerbread" designs of the Victorian age.

Victoriana was giving way to a "new movement," art deco and the arts and crafts design with modern lines for the lifestyles of a new century. The oriental pieces were sold in furniture and department stores throughout the major cities in Florida and around the United States in the 1920’s and are still sold today. Many Floridians, with fewer major cities and stores, and less money to spend, looked to the palm frond furniture as their "native furniture."

Palm furniture purchased out of necessity or by choice, was not sold in furniture stores, but is believed to have been marketed off the back of a maker’s truck, traveling through neighborhoods, the back country, seaside and tourist towns around the state.

The unique fronds are harvested from the living trees, thus it is a renewable resource. The use of the frond is both structural and decorative. In some cases the makers used reclaimed wood, such as, shipping crates and leftover or scraps of building materials. One stand we found has a Jacksonville Cotton Co. stenciled label. Several of the vintage pieces were found painted with house paint, green, grey and black colors. These colors were commonly used to trim doors, windows, painted siding and floors in homes and businesses. Some pieces of furniture were never painted, allowing the natural colors of the fronds to show creating an old woodsy look. Most pieces were utilitarian and meant to sit on porches, furnish motel rooms and lobbies, and the less grand winter cottages and homes in all the neighborhoods in then segregated Florida.

If a tornado or hurricane swept through, the replacement of this furniture was available, no waiting for a ship to come to port. Well, not the case anymore. With the miracle of molded plastic, furniture, the palm frond furniture makers seemed to have disappeared. Finding these old treasures has pretty much become impossible. Our last great find came from a friend, an antique dealer, Peggie Polk, owner of Baytree Antiques, Micanopy. She told Ty about a "funky neat" couch made of palm fronds she saw on a screened porch that morning, while she was at a house sale. Ty wasted no time getting there and soon learned from the owner, Issac Mann, that the couch had been made by his grandfather. Ty bought the couch and the palm frond furniture "revival" business was born.

Since the 1990’s we have been making the ‘Old Florida’ Palm Frond Furniture. First in the traditional styles and we have been adding new designs as we go. Many of our clients, friends and employees, have enjoyed getting involved with the "creation" process. We are always coming up with new ideas to add to what has become a really great adventure. – Just looking at this furniture makes you smile.

We now offer many pieces: couches and chairs, (including oversizes); tables, stands, lamps, desks, ottomans, cupboards and custom orders. Much of the materials we use is recycled from salvaged buildings, like the 100 year old reclaimed heart-of-pine along with Florida cypress and cherry.

The palm frond furniture is moving from the porches to the boardrooms, the cottage and camps to the castles, offering more comfort along with that nostalgic, natural Old Florida style.

Ty and Jean Tyson own & and operate Tyson’s Trading Co. Art & Antiques in Micanopy.

www.tysontrading.com


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