Different legs help to determine the style of a piece. If the furniture is antique, it helps to date the item as well as determine the designer.
The structure of a furniture leg is simple. The entire support is called the leg. Any bend or curve near the top or the center is defined as the knee. The section just above the base is the ankle, and the area below that - the part touching the floor - is the foot.
Dominant in the 18th century and originating in Italy, the cabriole furniture leg is shaped in a carved, double curve with an out-curved knee and in-curved ankle. It can be used in conjunction with many different foot designs. The cabriole leg is also extremely practical; the balance it achieves makes it possible to support heavy pieces of case furniture on slim legs, without the use of stretchers. A stretcher is a crosspiece that connects, braces, and strengthens the legs of tables and chairs.
This design is a variation on the cabriole leg, but it has a broken curve on the inner side of the knee.
This design was popular during the Empire Period, also known as the Classic Style, from 1815-1840. Lyre-shaped legs are just that - two legs come together to form the shape of a lyre, a small, harp-like musical instrument ordinarily strummed like a guitar.
Used in mid-18th-century English and American furniture, a Marlborough Leg is a heavy, straight, sometimes fluted leg with a block foot. These legs were first used in furniture designed for the Duke of Marlborough, from which the name is derived. This design was especially favored by Thomas Chippendale, a furniture maker of the mid to late 18th century.
This relatively long leg is fully upholstered, used most often on Parsons Chairs and upholstered benches.
A spiral leg resembles a twisted rope, with flutes or grooves winding down the leg. It was originally of Portuguese and Indian origin, and became popular during the Restoration period from 1660-1688.
This leg is tapered to resemble a cavalry saber and has a graceful curve that flares out. The front legs flare forward, and the rear legs curve out behind. Fine splayed legs are often found on early 19th-century chairs designed by Thomas Sheraton in the Grecian manner.
A leg that is wider at the top and the thickness gradually reduces toward the bottom is called a tapered leg. This leg style was used on many shield back chairs by George Hepplewhite in the mid to late 1700s.