Thomas Chippendale was a renowned cabinet-maker from London. Active mostly from mid to late 1700s, his designs dictated the fashion and style of furniture being produced in that era.
Born in 1718, Chippendale gained his apprenticeship from his father, a master furniture maker before working as a journeyman cabinet maker and freelance designer. His seminal work was a furniture book titled ‘The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director’, the publication featured many lavish furniture illustrations and was extremely popular.
His furniture work is known for its high level of quality of detail, build and material. Much of his furniture was made out of solid mahogany imported from the West Indies to accommodate his elaborate carved designs. The upholstery material for the soft furniture was also made from quality materials – rich brocades, velvets and damasks.
Chippendale’s signature style was actually a mixture of the indulgent Rococo style with Gothic and Chinese styles. He was also greatly influenced by the work of neoclassical architect Robert Adam, with whom he collaborated on a number of projects.
One of his signature features was the cabriole leg – an element present in most of his furniture designs. The cabriole is a Queen-Anne style element, where the legs of any particular type of furniture also serve a decorative purpose. Instead of plain square legs, they would be carved to resemble different forms – e.g. a lion’s claw, eagle talon, club and spade. His later work would also include simpler square, tapering legs as well.
It is difficult to find original Chippendale pieces since it was imitated by a multitude of various makers. It doesn’t help that Chippendale never used a maker’s mark on his pieces, so the only reliable way to track down his pieces would be to find the original bills or other documentation that came with the furniture. One of the identifying features of Chippendale furniture is its irregularity, since all the elaborate carving had to be done by hand. You might find that the joinery isn’t flawless and there could be traces of tool marks too.
Some pieces to look out for include: the window lounger chair, Chinese Chippendale (chinoiserie), cabinet desks, dressers and the classic splay backed chairs. There are many quality makers of Chippendale-style furniture but the original articles are likely to cost astronomical prices.