Friday, February 20, 2015

Furniture Episode 1: Mr Thomas Chippendale...

We have been particular thus far to ensure that, where we can, we furnish and decorate the house in the style of a Georgian manor house. So when furnishing it who else would we turn to for inspiration but the designs of the preeminent English cabinet maker, Mr Thomas Chippendale.

Mr Chippendale championed several styles of furniture, from the heavily ornate baroque to the refined and more elegant neoclassical style. This allows one much freedom in choosing pieces for a large project.

Chippendale wasn't just a carpenter. He designed many pieces and variations on a theme. He, having a bright idea for business, decided to put many of his designs into a catalog and thus became the first person to really promote catalog shopping. He suggested that he could make anything in his catalog and besides those items, any custom pieces. What's more, he promised that any of his pieces would be more splendid to behold than could be appreciated from the drawings.

He sought the patronage of the aristocracy, which was his making as well as his undoing in as much as this made him the man to have, the fashionable craftsman of his day; but he also became subject to the un-gentlemanly ways of the aristocracy, who purchased on credit and were very slow to pay. This culminated in Chippendale dying in penury.

Once such patron was the Duke of Northumberland, to whom he dedicated his furniture catalog, the Gentleman and Cabinetmakers Director...

Below is a drawing from the director showing the correct proportions for a Corinthian column and frieze band. Still ever so useful, we used this drawing when designing our frieze band for the exterior of the manor. His fashionable patrons, and their designers such as Robert Adams, were consumed with getting proportion and scale correct. Getting this wrong was a definite faux pas.

He designed many pieces himself, working on the baroque style initially, but when tastes changed and the neoclassical style of Adams et al, became fashionable, he began redesigning his own furniture, as well as taking commissions from these designers to make furniture to their specification. Entire houses such as those of Harewood HouseDumfries House and Nostell priory were furnished by him.

Below are some of his designs which we used when we were designing our dining room furniture.

Above and Below: One of fourteen chairs for along the sides of the dining table. They are upholstered in the same red Etro silk as the dining room walls.

Above: One of two carvers for either end of the table.

Below: One of two double chairs to go on either side of the bay window at the south end of the room.

Below is the buffet which will go between the french doors opposite the fireplace. I think it will look resplendent with crystal and silver on top. It also provides the surface on which we will serve the breakfast buffet in the morning, and a provides some practical storage.

Below: One of two cutlery canteens / low boys which will go on the north wall on either side of the hallway to the kitchen.

 Below: Designs for round backed French Chairs...
Above: One of twelve chairs for the music room loosely based on his French style.

Below: Similar chairs with oval backs for elsewhere in the house.

Below: Designs for square backed French Chairs.

Other Director chair designs...

Here are some of his designs for book cases and secretaires...

Below: The large bookcase for the Gold Drawing Room.

Below: One of two secretaires for the Gold Drawing Room.

In the next episode I'll share some of Chippendale's bed designs and occasional furniture designs along with some photos of our bedroom creations. Til then do watch this BBC documentary on the life and works of Thomas Chippendale from the "Carved with Love" series...


  1. How impressive that you have a competent craftsman to carve furniture to your exact specifications, and so much of it too!

    I remember when Prince Charles stepped in and saved Dumfries House and its contents from being scattered to the four corners of the earth, preserving Mr. Chippendale's furniture collection where it rightly belongs.

    1. Thanks. Yes we are lucky. As with many things we have had craftsmen make, we have had to guide them through things pretty tightly as the attention to detail is just not what it was 300 years ago, unless you go very very high end. Also much of it is trying to capture the spirit of an age that has passed, so no wonder it is difficult to ask someone living in the age of sterile functionality to understand just where one is coming from without the help of drawing from the master or photos of museum pieces.
      I look forward to sharing more photos of the furniture soon, as well as a gate which has been 18 months in the making which we also designed ourselves. It should arrive next month!

  2. Hello again, I had to come back and say that I truly enjoyed the video link you included in this post. I've just watched all four parts to this enlightening series, thank you. It was fascinating.

  3. Thanks. I thought it was worth sharing. I hadn't reallised just how close Dumfries came to catastrophe before Charles stepped in. Sale catalogs printed and tags on the lots!
    Dumfries is still on my to do list. I think columnist has visited and blogged about it before.

    1. He has...and highly recommends it! I do like your bergères and fauteuils, and the gilding will age well over time. As CD says, (and I have previously), I envy the skilled craftsmen you have at your disposal.

  4. Dear David,
    Fabulous! I like those dining chairs - a lot. I wonder whether we will be able to find anyone to carve like that when we come to build.
    Nostell Priory is beautiful and I recommend going there as well.
    Bye for now,


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