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Great Legs, Babe

How do you tell the difference between a Queen Anne and a Chippendale? Easy -- just determine the gender.

"Queen Anne was a female, and the chairs have curves, both the legs and the back," antiques expert Sharon Kerwick explains. "[Thomas] Chippendale retained the same basic design, but chipped away and made lots of carvings in it. And it was heavier, with fewer curves."

In her class 19th Century American Chairs, the owner of Kerwick Appraisals of Fort Lauderdale covers more than a century's worth of chair design, from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. She also discusses office equipment -- the desk used by Broward County pioneer Frank Stranahan, for instance. Once part of a private collection, it was recently returned to the restored 1901 Stranahan House in Fort Lauderdale, where the class is held.

"We'll have office desk chairs, so it's a nice tie-in," says Kerwick, who also uses slides and encourages participants to bring along their own antiques. "I try to include the people and their pieces," she says.

Kerwick's gender technique is nifty enough, but figuring out an antique's true age is another story. "It's not just guessing," she says. "You pick up a chair, and it has different weight to it." The heavier it is, the older it is.

Beginners, especially, have to be careful. "We have Queen Anne styles you can buy at Ethan Allen right now, though it was a style from the 1700s," Kerwick says. An authentic Queen Anne, otherwise known as a period piece, was made during the Eighteenth Century. But a chair manufactured in the Queen Anne style could have been made yesterday.

While Queen Annes and Chippendales were popular European designs, the United States found its own style, according to Kerwick, during the Federal period -- 1776 to the early 1800s. "Pieces were very thin and graceful," she notes. "There were shields on the backs of chairs, with eagles."

Kerwick wraps up her 90-minute class with a segment on the Arts and Crafts movement, which influenced furniture design of the early 1900s. Form equaled function back then, and Stranahan's simple desk is a good example, says Kerwick, who sees the chair, in particular, as a great introduction to antiques.

"A lot of expensive, heavy furniture, like dressers, didn't change very fast," she explains. "Chairs were used more. They were replaced more often, and so styles changed more quickly."

-- John Ferri

The class 19th Century American Chairs will be held May 5 at 6 p.m. at Stranahan House, located on Las Olas Boulevard at SE 6th Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. Cost is $10. Call 954-524-4736.

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John Ferri

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