Probably the single most well known name in the antique furniture industry is Thomas Chippendale. His artistic furniture designs have shaped furniture making not only in England and America but throughout the world for hundreds of years. I would consider him the most influential, most well known, and most versatile of the “Big Three” English furniture designers.
Personal History of Thomas Chippendale
Chippendale was born in 1718 into a family already in the woodworking business. He probably learned the fundamentals from his father before training under Richard Wood an extremely talented wood worker. After this training Chippendale moved to London and worked as a journeyman cabinet maker. Chippendale had nine children with his first wife, and after she passed he remarried and had two more children with his second wife.
Thomas Chippendale’s English Furniture Work
In 1754 while working as a journeyman cabinet maker in London, Thomas Chippendale published a book of his furniture designs entitled The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director. He was the first cabinet maker to publish such a book which catapulted him to his success in two ways. First, the book was immediately noticed by many potential wealthy clients opening up a large pool of customers and second the book has been so enduring that the entire British Rococo style has been branded as “Chippendale”. The success of his book was so widespread that once cabinet makers began to emulate the style overseas it was called “American Chippendale”. As an actual cabinet maker Thomas did make furniture as well and a list of pieces that can be directly identified to him can be seen on his wiki page.
Unlike the other large English furniture designers he is often compared to, Thomas Chippendale was not only a cabinet maker but a full interior designer. He could be commissioned to make a single piece of furniture or decorate an entire wing with furniture, art, rugs, and even paint or wallpaper. His commissions were not limited to the wealthy as he made utilitarian pieces for casual customers and furnished servants areas of larger commissions as well. It could be argued that he and his company were the most complete interior design firm until modern times.
The styles and designs of Chippendale can be broken down into essentially three categories. His main style was simply the British Rococo style and is referred to only has Chippendale. This style is characterized by cabriole legs, carvings, and broken arched pediments. His chairs are distinguished with back rests that are wider at the top than at the bottom and contained either ladders or joined slats. Mahogany was Chippendale’s wood of choice, he preferred it over all others.
The other two less popular Chippendale styles are called Chippendale Gothic and Chinese Chippendale. Chinese Chippendale having the wood carved to resemble bamboo as well as fretwork that gives an oriental feel and Gothic Chippendale having pointed arches and ogee curves in its fretwork and carvings.