Phyfe, Duncan(fīf), c.1768–1854, American cabinetmaker, b. Scotland. He emigrated to America c.1783, settling at Albany, N.Y., where he was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker. In the early 1790s he established a shop in New York City for the production of furniture; after several moves he finally settled in Partition St. (later changed to Fulton St.). He first spelled his name Fife but c.1793 adopted the form Phyfe. He made chairs, sofas or settees, tables, and sideboards, using in great part solid mahogany but also some mahogany veneer, satinwood and maple, and, in later years, rosewood. During his most productive period (until 1820) he was influenced by, and adapted the forms of, the Adam brothers, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton and characteristics of the French Directoire and Consulate styles. Later, his designs followed the Empire style, becoming in his final period heavy, overornamented, and to a great degree characterless. Phyfe employed in general the highest standards, applied under supervision to carefully selected woods. His first designs are characterized by excellent proportions, graceful curves often accentuated by parallel rows of reeding, simple ornaments well placed and carved with precision, and decorative motifs such as the lyre, the acanthus or oak leaf, and the drapery swag. Although much furniture termed Phyfe may not have been produced in his workshop, his designs were the nucleus of the Duncan Phyfe style.
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Phyfe, Duncan(1768–1854) furniture maker; born in Lock Fanich, Scotland. With his family, he emigrated to Albany, N.Y. (c. 1783), where he apprenticed to a cabinetmaker. He moved to New York City in 1792 and by 1815 his workshops occupied three buildings. A master of design who specialized in mahogany, his early works took their inspiration from English Sheraton and French Directoire furniture, evolving into his own distinctive American Empire style by 1818. Although he derided his work after 1830 as being heavy "butcher furniture," he was the most successful cabinetmaker of his era, leaving the business to his son James when he retired in 1847.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.