Thomas Chippendale: The most famous name in the history of English furniture

Pier table by Thomas Chippendale

Thomas Chippendale was a famous furniture designer in 18th-century England. Mostly, he designed cabinets in various styles including English Rococo, Gothic, and Chinese styles.

Today, his works are recognized as some of the best furniture from the period. Chippendale also published a book with his collection of designs, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director.

The book became so famous that the whole 18th-century furniture style was called Chippendale. He was born in Otley, Yorkshire, England and it was the only child of John and Mary Chippendale.

For a long time, the family was in the business of trading wood, and it is believed that he learned the basics of furniture-making and woodwork from his father.

In 1748, Thomas married Catherine Redshaw with whom he had nine children: five boys and four girls.

In 1754, Chippendale moved to London with his family, and their business flourished for 60 years until it was inherited by his son Thomas who eventually went bankrupt.

Over the years, Chippendale partnered with wealthy Scottish merchant James Rannie and his clerk Thomas Haig. After Rannie died, Haig took his place and became Chippendale’s new partner.

The third partner was Henry Ferguson, and the new name of the firm became Chippendale, Haig, and Co.

Highly decorated Pier table by Thomas Chippendale.

He was the first cabinet-maker who published a book about his designs. In the 18th century, people were fascinated by opulent and expensive-looking items, Chippendale put 160 engravings in his book of elegant furniture designs.

After it was published, the book became an instant success and was republished three times.

Original desk made by Thomas Chippendale.

Because of the rapid production of this furniture, it is difficult today to correctly attribute an original piece that was carved in Chippendale’s workshop.

Many other furniture designers started to work in his style because of its popularity. His furniture was made in Lisbon, Philadelphia, Dublin, Hamburg, and Copenhagen.

Also, because of the success of the firm, many pieces were actually made by craftsmen employed by the firm rather than Chippendale himself.

One of Chippendale’s pieces.

The elaborate designs from Chippendale’s book were not always followed; sometimes many simpler pieces were made for private spaces.

For example, in the work Chippendale did for Dumfries House, only 12 of the 50 items came from the book while the others were simpler. Chippendale also worked on the overall design of the rooms that housed his furniture.

Diana and Minerva Commode by Thomas Chippendale.

At the peak of his success, he turned his workshop into an interior design studio and fully decorated rooms and even whole houses.

His clientele were generally aristocrats, and several of the houses he decorated can still be seen today.

A few of Chippendale’s desks are also on public display, including those at Blair Castle, Perthshire, made for the Duke of Atholl;.

Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, built for Sir Roland Winn; Wilton House for the 10th Earl of Pembroke; Paxton House in Scotland, Temple Newsam in Yorkshire for Lord Irwin; and at Dumfries House in Scotland for the Earl.

A beautiful wooden desk made in Chippendale style. Author: Ian Burt. CC BY 2.0

The three styles in which Chippendale made furniture were Rococo, Gothic, and Chinese, which he mixed together into unified designs.

The Gothic elements were pointed arches and ogee curves made on the backs of chairs and bookcases. The use of Rococo style was a reaction against Baroque furniture design.

One of the chairs with ribbon back made by Thomas Chippendale.

One of the best-known designs in Rococo style is the ribbon-back chair composed of carved interlacing ribbons.

Shelves and cabinets were made in Chinese style for richly decorated rooms.

Little Moreton Hall – A fairy-tale manor built during the Tudor period

These designs were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States, and prominent examples exist at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello on the wing terraces.