Arguably the most distinguished British cabinetmaker of the 18th century, Thomas Chippendale launched a furniture style that resonates with collectors still today, and was the mastermind behind the first furniture style named after an artisan, rather than the reigning monarch – revolutionary for the time.
Chippendale was born in Otley in West Yorkshire, before moving to St. Martin’s Lane in London, where the leading furniture manufacturers were based. Although there are written accounts of Chippendale negotiating the cost of his furniture with clients, Chippendale furniture fetches high prices in the market today. Even during his lifetime, his designs were so popular they were subject to frequent imitation. Below, explore ten facts you may not know about the work of the acclaimed carpenter, designer, and entrepreneur.
Hallmarks of Chippendale furniture:
- The legs on most Chippendale furniture are cut in a Cabriole style.
- Many of the design flourishes are inspired by Louis XV’s Rococo style. Chippendale furniture often bears interlacing symbols that recall the late king’s own monogram of interlacing “Ls,” which are prominent on Chippendale chair backs.
- Chippendale furniture was constructed widely from mahogany, but also from maple, walnut, cherry, or veneer.
1. Chippendale furniture was rarely made by Chippendale himself.
Most Chippendale furniture would have been made in Chippendale’s studio, but rarely by his own hand. It was not long before Chippendale hired a team of craftspeople to make his furniture while he dedicated his time to design and business development.
2. Thomas Chippendale never used a maker’s mark.
Chippendale furniture is typically verified by a certificate of authenticity that accompanies his work.
3. Mahogany was his material of choice.
Chippendale’s preferred wood for highly valued commissions was mahogany from the West Indies.
4. Chippendale was influenced by a variety of styles.
The Chippendale style is usually a hybrid of Chinese, Gothic, and what Chippendale referred to as “Modern,” which today means the French Rococo style.
5. He never received a royal commission.
Although he was one of the pre-eminent furniture makers of his day, Chippendale never received a royal commission, unlike many of his counterparts.
6. Chippendale served as an interior designer.
Like William Morris after him, Chippendale would have taken on whole-house decoration commissions: tackling wallpaper, carpets, and more. He would take on additional design responsibilities himself, and was involved in sourcing and managing craftspeople.
7. There were two Thomas Chippendales.
The original Thomas Chippendale was succeeded by his eldest son, also called Thomas Chippendale, who ran his father’s firm until it went bankrupt due to to slow-paying clients.
8. Thomas Chippendale published a book.
The artisan rose to prominence when he published his designs in a 1754 book called the Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, which was sold through subscription to other cabinetmakers and aristocratic gentlemen. It was so successful that it was re-published in 1755 and again in 1762. By democratizing his designs, Chippendale furthered the reach of his name, and it became synonymous with all furniture produced in his style.
9. Contemporary design is still inspired by Chippendale furniture.
Contemporary artists Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown reworked a classic Chippendale chair, flattening it to create what they refer to as ‘transitional’ (hybridized) furniture, and bringing it into the 21st century.
10. Chippendale furniture is on view to the public.
Collections of Chippendale furniture and interior design can be seen in situ as he intended, maintained at National Trust houses across the United Kingdom. One of the most expansive collections of his work can be seen at Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire, but it can also be found at Saltram in Devon, Petworth House in West Sussex, Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire, and Osterley House in West London.
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