British furniture maker Thomas Chippendale is one of the most readily recognized names in the history of furniture making. The reason for that could very well be the fact that there is an entire well known style of furniture - Chippendale - that is named after him.
Thomas Chippendale Background:
Thomas Chippendale was born in 1719 in Otley, Yorkshire. His father was a woodworker and came from a family that had long been involved in the wood working and timber trades. It is thought that he might have learned his skills from apprenticing with his father.
It is also believed that he had more advanced training with Richard Wood, who was the leading furniture maker in York.
He then moved to London, and in 1748, married Susan Redshaw and they had nine children. One of them, also named Thomas Chippendale, grew up up to take over his father's business, was equally talented, and also made a name for himself. Since it was the same name as his father, it does create a bit of a confusion for furniture history novices.
Thomas Chippendale's Career
Along with producing work of high caliber, Chippendale also authored books. His The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director published in 1754, was the first book on furniture to be published as a means of self-promotion in England. The book is commonly known as the Director. He brought out new editions of it in 1755 and 1762. Compare Prices
Publishing that book had an immediate effect on his furniture business, by bringing it to the notice of plenty of potential, wealthy clients. The second effect was that he claimed the British Rococo style as his own, and it became associated with his name. So much so, that when the style traveled across the Atlantic to the Colonies, it was recognized and alluded to as the American Chippendale style. You could argue that Thomas Chippendale understood the principles of branding.
In 1754, the same year his Director was published, Chippendale set up his business at 60 – 62 St Martin’s Lane, which was a fashionable shopping area of London. He employed many cabinet makers and designers including Henry Copland, and became one of the largest furniture manufacturers in London. This is where all Chippendale's furniture was made for the next 60 years. It continued till 1813 when his son, who inherited and ran the business, was ejected from the building following his bankruptcy.
Thomas Chippendale's Work
Chippendale described himself as an ‘upholder’ which meant that he was also able to provide upholstery and other furnishings in addition to cabinet-making. He also furnished textiles and wall papers and preferred to take on long running commissions where he would be responsible for furnishing large town or country houses from top to bottom, which included resplendent furniture for the grand reception rooms, and then furnishing the rest of the house as required, depending on the clients needs and funds down to the very basic, utilitarian things for the servants of the house.
He also sold occasional furniture to casual customers, such as elegant hexagonal tea or work tables.
Harewood House and Nostell Priory are two of the best known establishments that he furnished. But at least 70 clients have been identified through research based on invoices and entries in his account books. Over 600 pieces of furniture can be attributed to his workshop based on documentation or analysis of stylistic attributes.
Thomas Chippendale's Style:
Chippendale furniture was essentially British Rococo furniture, but Chippendale kept an eye on the changing and evolving tastes of his time.
His furniture emphasized carved ornamentation, a love of the exotic, the new, and the extraordinary. He also worked in, and helped make popular, two variants of the British Rococo style, known as Chippendale Gothic and Chinese Chippendale.
After 1765 he worked in the Adam style and the English version of Louis XVI style. It is possible that the work in these styles might have been carried out by his son who joined his father's business and continued to run it.
Thomas Chippendale died in 1778.