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
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
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