Thomas Chippendale: Britain's Most Celebrated Furniture Designer

Thomas Chippendale (1718 – 1779) was a London cabinet-maker and furniture designer in the mid-Georgian, English Rocco, and Neoclassical styles. In 1754 he published a book of his designs, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director. His superior designs were regarded as reflecting the current London fashion for furniture for that period and were widely copied by other cabinetmakers.

The Diana and Minerva Commode, Harewood House.

A detail of the Diana and Minerva Commode which, with its intricate ivory inlay, elegant lines and drawers that whisper shut is often referred to as Chippendale's greatest single work.

A splendid Chippendale's satinwood and marquetry secretaire, from the State Bedroom suite at Harewood House

Another magnificent commode from the same suite (above) at Harewood House.

One of a pair of giltwood oval mirrors, supplied by Chippendale in 1773 for the State Bedroom at Harewood House.

Harewood House, the State Bedroom. Two of a set of eighteen George III period giltwood open armchairs supplied by Thomas Chippendale for the house.

Harewood House, the State Bedroom. Chippendale’s magnificent State Bed, one of his most extraordinary creations, and one of the most expensive ones: Chippendale charged Lord Harewood £250 for it, and further £150 for three mattresses in 1773.

Harewood House, an outstanding Thomas Chippendale's commode, in the French taste.

Striking grain and superbly crisp carving.

Chippendale's elaborate Rococo bras drawer handle.

The 'French' scrolled legs were typical for Chippendale's Rococo furniture.

The best examples of Chippendale's furniture often featured these distinctive brass keyhole escutcheons.

Harewood House, The State Dining Room. The superb ormolu mounted Neoclassical serving-table (one of a pair), and the magnificent wine cooler are among the finest pieces ever made by Chippendale's firm.

Chippendale's magnificent mahogany and ormolu-mounted wine cooler at Harewood House.

Harewood House, The Music Room. Part of a set of eighteen George III period giltwood open armchairs by Thomas Chippendale. Originally gilt and upholstered in green silk damask, they were invoiced on November 12, 1773: "Cabriole Arm'd Chairs very richly Carved in the Antique Manner and gilt in Burnished Gold Stuff’d & Covered with your Damask". In 1851 the whole suite, including the two sofas and a pair of bergeres from the Yellow Drawing Room suite, was re-upholstered with Aubusson tapestry; six chairs (now in State Bedroom) have been recovered in green silk damask.

Harewood House, The Music Room. One of a set of eighteen George III giltwood open armchairs by Thomas Chippendale.

Harewood House, The Gallery. One of a pair of George III giltwood mirrors by Thomas Chippendale, c. 1778. Each glass is flanked by caryatids holding flower-swags surmounted by three painted ovals and an urn, the base with rams’ masks and swags. The painted roundels are similar, if smaller in scale, to the ones found on the four pier glasses (reflected), known to have been made for this room.

Harewood House, The Gallery. A set of seven George III carved giltwood and painted pelmets by Thomas Chippendale, the Younger, Chippendale’s crowning achievement in The Gallery. The wood is superbly carved to imitate heavy red fabric with gold fringe.

Harewood House, The Gallery. A fine example of Chippendale's signature carved giltwood girandoles in the Chinese taste (one of a pair). A delightful mix of the asymmetrical Rococo and Chinese motifs.

A Chippendale's most elegant cream and green painted side chair, one of a suite, and one of a pair of similarly painted torcheres in the neoclassical taste, supplied for Harewood House.

An elegant Chippendale's parcel gilt and green painted fish bowl stand in the neoclassical taste at Harewood House.

A delightful detail of a Chippendale's mahogany bookcase at Harewood House

Harewood House, the Old Library. A painted armchair by Chippendale, circa 1771, described in an inventory of 1795 as ‘8 blue painted Cabriole Chairs covered in yellow Morocco leather’.

Harewood House, the Hall. Although not listed in Chippendale’s bill, this magnificent set of eight painted hall chairs, designed to match the grandeur of Adam's Hall, was almost certainly supplied by his firm.

A magnificent detail of a painted hall chair, one of a set of eight (above) at Harewood House.

Detail of Thomas Chippendale's extraordinary green and gold-japanned commode and clothes press, supplied to Harewood House in c. 1769.

Detail of Chippendale's green and gold-japanned clothes press at Harewood

Thomas Chippendale's extraordinary green and gold-japanned commode at Harewood House

Harewood House, the East Bedroom. A painted and gilded pier glass by Thomas Chippendale, made to complement the colourful Chinese wallpaper.

Thomas Chippendale's extraordinary green and gold-japanned clothes press at Harewood House.

Thomas Chippendale's extraordinary green and gold-japanned commode and clothes press, and the Chinese hand-painted wallpaper, all supplied to Harewood House in c. 1769.

Detail of Chippendale's green and gold-japanned commode at Harewood.

One of a pair of green and gold-japanned bedside cabinets,supplied by Chippendale to Harewood House.

Thomas Chippendale's extraordinary green and gold-japanned clothes press at Harewood House.

Thomas Chippendale's extraordinary green and gold-japanned commode at Harewood House.

Chippendale's 'Gothic' serving table, downstairs at Harewood House.

The Top Hall at Nostell Priory. The hall chairs, a set of eight, originally painted white, were designed by Chippendale to match Adam's neat neoclassical hall.

A detail of a Chippendale's hall chair, one of a set of eight, supplied for Nostell Priory.

Nostell Priory. Detail of a typical Chippendale's Rococo chair, as illustrated in The Gentleman's and Cabinetmaker's Director, first published by Chippendale in 1754.

Chippendale's corresponding design for a chair above, as illustrated in The Gentleman's and Cabinetmaker's Director.

Chippendale's metamorphic settee, folding out to form a bed, at The Crimson Bedchamber at Nostell Priory.

The delightful Chippendale's gentleman's dressing-table at Nostell Priory.

Nostell Priory, The Library, one of the six lyre back chairs, and the exceptional library table, all supplied by Thomas Chippendale.

A detail of the exceptional mahogany library table by Thomas Chippendale (above).

Nostell Priory, The Library, one of the six lyre back chairs, "the carving exceeding rich in antique taste".

Typical Chippendale's bookcase in the North Staircase at Nostell Priory.

State Bedchamber at Nostell Priory. Thomas Chippendale's exceptional gilt and painted pier glass in the Chinese taste, above the magnificent dressing commode, one of a suite of the green and gold lacquer chinoiserie furniture made by Chippendale for the house.

A detail of the dressing commode (above), from a suite of green and gold lacquer chinoiserie furniture. Invoiced by Chippendale in 1771, costing 15 pounds 10 shillings.

Above: State Dressing Room at Nostell Priory. Most of the furniture is Chippendale dating from 1771 including the `dome bedstead Japan'd green and gold'.

Below: Two open armchairs from a suite of green painted and parcel-gilt seat furniture in the Chinese taste, supplied by Chippendale for Nostell Priory.

Born in Otley, Yorkshire, Thomas Chippendale became arguably the most famous British furniture designer and maker of all times.

The Chippendale family had long been in the woodworking trades and so he probably received his basic training from his father, though it is believed that he was also trained by Richard Wood in York, before he moved to London. Wood later ordered eight copies of the Director.

In 1749 Chippendale moved to London and after working a few years as a journeyman cabinet maker, by 1754 he established his own workshops at 60–62 St. Martin's Lane, where for the next 60 years the family business operated until 1813 when his son, Thomas Chippendale (Junior), was evicted for bankruptcy. In 1754, he became the first cabinet-maker to publish a book of his designs, titled The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director. Three editions were published, the first in 1754, followed by a virtual reprint in 1755, and finally a revised and enlarged edition in 1762, by which time Chippendale's illustrated designs began to show signs of Neoclassicism.

Chippendale was much more than just a cabinet maker, he was an interior designer who advised on other aspects of decor such as soft furnishings and even the colour a room should be painted. At the peak of its success the firm could act like a modern interior designer working with other specialists and undertake the supply of fully decorated and furnished rooms or whole houses, once the principal construction was done. Chippendale often took on large-scale commissions from aristocratic clients. His most important commissions are: Nostell Priory, Harewood House, Dumfries House, Paxton House, Temple Newsam, Wilton House, Burton Constable Hall, and many others, with some of the more important pieces presented above, photographed during our Grand Tour of the Great British Country Houses.

Chippendale's Director was used by many other cabinet makers. Consequently, recognisably "Chippendale" furniture was produced in Dublin, Philadelphia, Lisbon, Copenhagen and Hamburg. Catherine the Great and Louis XVI both possessed copies of the Director in its French edition. The Director shows four main styles: English with deep carving, elaborate French rococo in the style of Louis XV furniture, Chinese style with latticework and lacquer, and Gothic with pointed arches, quatrefoils and fret-worked legs. His favourite wood was mahogany; in seat furniture he always used solid wood rather than veneers.

Chippendale's designs became very popular again during the middle to late 19th century, leading to widespread adoption of his name in revivals of his style. Many of these later designs that attach his name bear little relationship to his original concepts.

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