Thomas Chippendale was a master of his craft whose work is of enduring significance – and on two counts. As the author of the oddly titled “The Gentleman and cabinet makers Director “(first published in 1754), he produced the first substantial collection of furniture designs. Apart from demonstrating his genius, this provided clients and craftsmen throughout the century with a superlative pattern-book from which furniture could be chosen and made. In this way Chippendale’s work did much to improve standards of both craftsmanship and taste, while also initiating a new genre without which the work of subsequent designers such as Hepplewhite and Sheraton would have been unthinkable. Moreover as a cabinet maker, Chippendale himself produced furniture of the highest excellence, mastering every style to which he turned his hand and working for the aristocratic elite of his time. This book describes both Chippendale’s printed designs and his actual furniture – two subjects that overlap rather than coincide.
He was born into a vigorous craft tradition that was still capable of further refinement and not yet threatened by factory mass-production. And he came to manhood when heavy furniture was becoming outmoded – a time when creative change was in the air. This was not just a matter of demand for lighter or more elegant furniture, but involved a simple but decisively important technical change – in broad terms, the replacement of walnut by mahogany as the wood used for quality furniture.
Almost everybody has heard of Chippendale, he is so famous that people jokingly refer to their battered household chairs as their “Chippendale’s” and in a more serious vein they use the word to describe almost any 18th century mahogany furniture whose workmanship is fanciful or intricate
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