Chippendale… Thomas Chippendale. Nobody did it better.
Mr. Chippendale is without a doubt
the most distinguished of all furniture designers… ever!
Yes, Mr. Chippendale is famous as the master of mahogany… tall bookcases, highboys, and dining chairs. But, he’s so much more!
Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) was the pre-eminent cabinet-maker and furniture designer of the 18th century. Along with producing work of high caliber, Chippendale also authored the first design book. His The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director published in 1754, was the first book on furniture to be published as a means of self-promotion (a custom order catalog) in England. The book is commonly known as the Director. He brought out new editions of it in 1755 and 1762.
The Director was the first comprehensive design book for furniture ever to appear, and it remains probably the most important to this day. It is (yes, it’s still being printed) a magnificent folio of 160 engraved plates representing the prevailing furniture styles, particularly the French (Louis XV), Gothic, and Chinese-manner pieces for which he was best known.
The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director was enormously influential, spreading quickly throughout the Continent and the colonies and guiding the style of the civilized world. Catherine the Great and others on Europe’s Who’s Who List wouldn’t be caught dead without an edition.
Furnitology‘s blog post “Top 10 Most Influential Furniture Designers” is a good read for info on Chippendale and others that loom big in interior design history. It says that we are used to seeing a tall, stately mahogany Philly Highboy and referring to it as Chippendale. But, the real soul of Tom Chippendale is reflected in the highly eclectic variety in his designs…. easy to see in his Director.
Designing & crafting beautiful furnishings for the well-to-do was a revolutionary new business in London. And, business was booming by the mid-1700s. Chippendale was not the only game in town but he was the most savvy. Gorgeous “modern” designs, good business skills, and the good sense to charm the client went a long way back in the day, too.
The Director was the principal inspiration behind the characteristic mahogany furniture of the mid-18th century, and Chippendale’s designs were used, often in greatly simplified form, by innumerable provincial and rural craftsmen. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s lucrative as well. For over two centuries furniture makers have continually created Chippendale style furniture based on his original designs. To find a real Chippendale period piece is very rare indeed. They are only in museums, not Grandma’s attic. That doesn’t mean that there is not good antique and vintage Chippendale out there. Shop around. Chippendale style of any vintage in always worth owning.
The influence of the talented Mr. Chippendale indeed goes on and on and on.
Look at any interiors book, HGTV show, or haven blog… Mr. Chippendale is still very much alive!