George Hepplewhite’s furniture was a popular style during the late 18th Century. His designs were light and elegant – a contrast to some of the earlier styles such as the Queen Anne.
Born in 1727, Hepplewhite mostly worked out of his workshop in St. Giles, London. He is recognised as one of “The Big Three” English furniture makers along with Thomas Chippendale and Thomas Sheraton. Hepplewhite and Sheraton ushered in the modernist approach to design with clean lines and natural forms of the wood, instead of relying on intricate decorations and chinoiserie of the likes of Chippendale.
Unlike some of his contemporaries in the field, Hepplewhite’s work was relatively unknown and received little acclaim during his lifetime. When he died in 1786, his widow Alice decided to follow in the footsteps of Chippendale and Sheraton and released a book featuring most of Hepplewhite’s designs entitled “The Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers Guide”. The book was successful in establishing him as a household name and was further released in two more editions.
There are no known pieces of Hepplewhite furniture in existence, his namesake is mostly used to describe the light and delicate style of furniture favoured in the last part of 18th Century. One of the specific features of the style include the legs and feet of the furniture which were straight and tapered at the bottom (as opposed to the cabriole legs favoured by Chippendale) .
The wood that he typically used was veneered so it usually featured more than just one type of wood. Satinwood, walnut, sycamore, tulipwood, birch and rosewood were commonly used in his furniture. Common motifs included swags, ribbons, feathers, urns and trees. Pieces were often embellished with small painted and carved decorations, with intricate veneers and inlays.
Hepplewhite is also credited with popularising the sideboard, the short type of chest of drawers and the shield-backed chair designs. This furniture style is a true timeless classic and is not due to go out of fashion any time soon.