Thomas Chippendale – Master Cabinetmaker to the Aristocracy

Thomas Chippendale Mahogany Tripod Table

Thomas Chippendale 1718-1779
18th-century genius, furniture designer, interior designer, and leader of taste. 

Thomas Chippendale, 1718Thomas Chippendale is England’s most famous furniture designer of the Georgian period. He influenced furniture and interior design in England and the world and supplied its richest British clients with exceptional furniture and interior design.  

Thomas was the only child of John (1690-1768) and Mary (1693-1729) Chippendale who ran a cabinet making business in Yorkshire. Little is known about his early years however it is clear that Thomas was a genius. He was, of course, attracted to London to meet clients and build his business. 

By 1754 Thomas Chippendale had established a furniture workshop and interior design studio in Covent Garden, London at 60-62 St Martins Lane where the furniture business continued to run into the early 19th century under the management of his son Thomas Chippendale Junior.   

The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director
The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director 1754

Cabinet Work and Production

Thomas Chippendale was the first cabinet maker in history to publish a book of his furniture designs. It was titled ‘The Gentleman and Cabinet Makers Director’. The first edition coincided with the opening of the workshop in St. Martins Lane, 1754 and subsequently was followed by a second edition in 1755 and a final larger edition in 1762 which included the neo-classical designs that were becoming en vogue and continued to do so until the end of the century. 

‘The Director’ is a complete archive of Chippendale’s rococo and neoclassical (in the 3rd edition) furniture designs for Chairs, with ribbon backs, of French design, Chinese inspiration, sofas, settees, and beds of great extravagance. Wash stands, candle stands, desks and sideboard tables. Dressing tables, Commode Tables, for the library, writing tables, library tables, bookcases and even organs for the chapel. Mirrors, wall lights, fall front secretaires, China cabinets, hanging shelves, pedestals, and lanterns. Wall brackets, Chimney Pieces, and girandoles to name just a few published options in multiple variations of design.

Competition and Clients

Among Chippendale’s most notable competitors all vying for the attention of the countries aristocratic grandees, were Mayhew and Ince, William and John Linnell, Pierre Langlois, Wright and Elwick and George Simon. He collaborated in particular with Scottish Architect and interior designer Robert Adam. Both of whom notably supplied designs and furniture for Osterley Park, near London and Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. 

Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire
Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire

Chippendale’s impressive client list was extensive and included Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood, whose fortune was established in Indian Plantations. George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont at Petworth House, Lord Irwin at Temple Newsam and Sir Roland Winn at Nostell Priory. He also supplied 50 pieces of furniture to the 5th Earl of Dumfries, whose collection has remained intact and in 2007 was saved from auction at Christie’s by a consortium headed by HRH The Prince of Wales.

Chippendale The Interior Designer

What distinguished Thomas Chippendale was his business-minded approach that led him to not only be the arbiter of taste but also to become an interior designer, specifying complete room sets, wall colours, soft furnishings, lighting and of course his cabinet work and the design of rooms. At Harewood house, for instance, the hand painted imported Chinese wallpaper was hung by Thomas Chippendale and his craftsmen.

The Chinese Wallpaper at Harewood House
The Chinese Wallpaper at Harewood House hung by Chippendale’s men. The furniture supplied by Chippendale.

The Finest Materials

The materials that Chippendale used to produce pieces were of the highest quality, indeed, a top quality Chippendale chest of drawers will slide together as smoothly today as the day it was made, you barely need the pressure of one finger to close a drawer shut. Oak is the timber of preference for carcasses while high quality figured exotic timber from the Caribbean, India, South Asia, as well as indigenous woods, were celebrated on the surfaces. Mahogany was king but other woods such as Satinwood, ebony, and rosewood were frequently used on the finest pieces. 

Cabinet Makers

While the name Thomas Chippendale is synonymous with the finest mid 18th-century antique furniture, it is unlikely that he actually made many pieces himself. Rather he managed his workforce of 40 – 50 cabinet makers, he directed style, oversaw quality control and most probably traveled the country visiting clients with his entourage of draughtsman, designers, and craftsmen selling and installing the most fashionable furniture and furnishings of the Georgian period. 

Engraving of a 18th Century Workshop
Engraving of a 18th Century Workshop with cabinetmakers at work

Thomas Chippendale Links::

Nicholas Wells Antiques is proud to offer a superb collection of Chippendale Antique Furniture.

Nostell Priory

Click here to see our Georgian Furniture Style Guide.