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Glossary of Terms: Barley Twist

The 'barley twist', also known as the 'sugar barley twist' is a classic design element in English antique furniture which rose to prominence during the early Queen Anne period of furniture making.

Barley Twist Leg on a Drop Leaf Dining Table

It can be argued that the earliest recording of a helix shaped pillar is believed to have supported the roof of Solomons Temple, as referenced in the bible.

Artists Impression of the Temple of Solomon

This lends us the term 'Solomonic Column' and would date the design to around 600BC although we only have the oral history for provenance. Of course like nearly all elements of man-made design the barley twist can be found in nature, with climbing weeds wrapping themselves around plant stalks to gain elevation which was surely the original inspiration for this elegant design...

A twisting climbing plant

Later introduced to English furniture makers with the arrival of Katherine of Braganza from Portugal in 1661, upon her marriage to King Charles II, the barley twist was of Baroque, Spanish-Moorish tradition. Initially the barley twist was hand carved, requiring a master craft-mans precision to achieve the correct spacing and consistent curves necessary to make this design work aesthetically. However furniture makers later developed techniques to reproduce the twisted helix on a lathe and this allowed for much more intricate designs to be created such as double and open barley twists.

Double Open Barley Twist


Today some examples of walnut furniture from the Queen Anne period still exist however after a revival of this style during the reign of Queen Victorian the most commonly found barley twists will be carved from oak.