You may have heard the term before, but what is Chippendale furniture? In this blog, we look at the history of Chippendale furniture, the man it was named after and the distinctive features of this timeless furniture style.
Who was Thomas Chippendale?
Chippendale furniture is named after its creator, Thomas Chippendale. It was the first English furniture style that was named after an artisan, rather than the monarch who ruled during the period.
Thomas Chippendale was born into a family of carpenters in Otley, Yorkshire in 1718. By the time he was 30, in 1748, Chippendale had moved to London where he set up as a cabinet maker. Chippendale’s workshop was located on St Martin’s Lane, which had become the fashionable centre of the furniture making trade in London.
It was the first English furniture style that was named after an artisan, rather than the monarch who ruled during the period.
In 1754, he published his book, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director. Furniture designs had occasionally been published before this, but this book was the first of its kind on such a large scale. It was The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director, sometimes referred to as The Director, that made Chippendale a household name and secured his reputation as one of the most celebrated cabinet makers of the 18th century. It was reissued in 1755 and again in 1762 with some additional neo-classical designs.
After the publication of The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director, Chippendale was inundated with large-scale design commissions from wealthy and aristocratic clients for grand houses across Britain. Within a year, Chippendale’s workforce had grown to 40-50 cabinet makers, upholsterers, and carvers, while the man himself focused on the designs.
Other cabinet makers started reproducing the designs found in his book and began to emulate Chippendale’s style, which meant that Chippendale furniture could soon be found across Europe and America.
According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, Chippendale’s designs were so influential, not just in Britain but also in Europe and America, that “‘Chippendale’ became a shorthand description for any furniture similar to his Director’s designs”.
What is Chippendale furniture and what makes it distinctive?
The 18th century saw an increasing demand for luxury goods and furniture which made a statement. Chippendale’s furniture did just that and quickly became lauded for its revolutionary designs and quality, becoming the most popular furniture style in Georgian England.
As stated in The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director, Chippendale’s designs were inspired by the Gothic, Chinese and French Rococo styles. From the 1760s, Chippendale also became influenced by the Neoclassical architecture of Robert Adam and worked this into his designs.
Chippendale furniture is characterised by its elaborate carvings and ornate style, while still being functional. The furniture was (and still is) distinctive because of how it harmoniously blended the disparate style elements of the Gothic, Chinese and Rococo.
Gothic furniture inspired the S-shaped curves and pointed arches on the back of Chippendale’s chairs and the pediments of his bookcases. Chinese styling influenced fretwork found on glazing bars, table edges and chair backs.
The French or Rococo influence added some elaborate flair to Chippendale’s designs, such as foliate decoration and ornate carvings. Another distinctive feature of Chippendale furniture is the Cabriole leg, a curved design that ends in a carved foot such as the lion’s paw, the ball and claw or the club.
What wood is used for Chippendale furniture?
Chippendale furniture was distinguished from earlier furniture in the period by the use of dark wood. Chippendale originally worked with walnut, but mahogany was traditionally used in his finest pieces, so it can be argued that this is the most authentic wood for use in reproduction pieces.
Mahogany is a hard and resilient wood, and its ability to be carved so well is what made it the perfect wood for Chippendale’s designs, as well as the favoured material of many other master craftsmen through the years.
Chippendale originally worked with walnut, but mahogany was traditionally used in his finest pieces.
Chippendale furniture is one of the most influential furniture styles throughout history, still inspiring some designs today through elaborate carving techniques as well as the continued use of mahogany in fine furniture.
Now that you know what Chippendale furniture is, are you inspired to include a little bit of this history in your home? If so, you can browse our collection of Chippendale furniture.