Rustic furniture is furniture employing sticks, twigs or logs for a natural look. The term "rustic" is derived from National Park Service rustic style of architecture. Many companies, artists and craftspeople make rustic furniture in a variety of styles and with a variety of historical and contemporary influences.
The rustic furniture movement developed during the mid- to late-1800s. Rustic furniture was originally made from whatever natural materials were in greatest supply, and often by poor people as items of trade for food or cash. The style is associated with the Great Depression and other hard times in America; however, it is also associated with the Great Camps built by wealthy Americans in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, of which the most familiar modern form is the Adirondack chair. Various rustic styles reflect the personality of their maker, with techniques such as chip carving, silver or gold brushwork, milk paint, peeled bark and other decorative enhancements. Many different wood species were used including willow, hickory, mountain laurel, and Alaska cedar. In the American South, palm fronds were occasionally employed. Historical examples of rustic furniture may be found in museums and antique shops, although fine historical pieces are rare outside a museum setting. One showcase for this style of furniture is the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York. The New York State Museum is home to: "Rustic Furniture: The Clarence O. Nichols Collection". Typical items of rustic furniture include chairs, love seats, tables, desks, smoking stands (often with a cabin on top), clocks, chest of drawers, rockers, coat racks, mirror frames and lamps.
There are two basic types of rustic-furniture construction: bentwood (sticks are harvested fresh or steamed to make them supple, then bent into a variety of structures and decorative shapes) and twig work (sticks – straight, curved or forked – are assembled into structures and decorative shapes within a structure). Sometimes both types are used in the same piece. Some rustic furniture makers use mortice and tenon construction; others simply nail or screw members together.
Rustic furniture can sometimes refer to furniture displaying a distinct lack of craftsmanship involved. Quite often, you will find untreated/minimally-treated logs sold off as 'rustic' pieces of furniture commanding prices vastly in excess of their more modern, polished looking counterparts. Whilst some may say more of the raw material is utilised in the crafting of more 'solid' looking pieces of furniture, it may also be argued that the labour costs involved in the manufacturing of such pieces indicates a vast inflation of sold unit prices, if fully taking into consideration actual costs of labour time and raw materials involved. It widens the definition of the word 'furniture' from that of a well crafted, polished-looking product derived from a raw material, to almost any sample of raw material or timber minimally shaped to fulfil the basic purpose of the named furniture type (e.g. untreated sawn tree stump sold as a rustic coffee or bedside table).