What Is Chippendale Furniture?
Chippendale, one of the outstanding styles of American furniture, originated in the mid 1700s. Find out information about Thomas Chippendale, unique characteristics of this style, and decorating tips.
Chippendale is one of the outstanding furniture styles of the 18th century. Early pieces have cabriole legs, which means they curve outward at the knee and turn it at the ankle, with ball and claw feet. This style has been referred to as French inspiration with English sturdiness.
English cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale (1714-1779) was a superb wood carver and a master designer. His 1754 book, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, brought him worldwide fame. Regardless of what was happening on the political front, Americans continued to look to England in matters of style. This pattern book made it easier for colonial cabinetmakers to follow his style. Philadelphia is best remembered as the prominent center for this style, but outstanding pieces were made elsewhere in New England. Experts can tell by the regional characteristics in the construction of legs and feet where a piece of Chippendale was made.
Chippendale style furniture was made almost exclusively of mahogany because of its durability and richly figured grain. A wide variety of Chippendale pieces were made including high boys, chairs, sofas, tables, desks, and mirrors. Styles are characterized by rich carvings and the free use of curves. Finest quality carvings, including swirls, leaves, shells, and knotted ribbons, suggest movement and vitality. Decorative hardware that reflected light was an important accent.
The popularity of oriental design in Europe prompted Chippendale also use oriental motifs on elaborately decorated lacquered furniture. This was copied in America, where Chinese porcelain, along with earlier glass and china, were popular accessories. Needlepoint and tapestry were also popular.
Wing chairs in Chippendale and Queen Anne styles are often confused. The difference lies in the construction of the arms. Queen Anne arms roll vertically and turn outward while in the Chippendale style they roll horizontally. Upholstery fabrics were rich and strong in color although in later years they became more subtle.
Chippendale furniture was so beautiful that throughout the years it rarely got moved to storage. It was also extremely well built. Therefore, many pieces have remained in excellent condition. When buying a piece of Chippendale, check for original workmanship. Any repairs or replacements, which are especially common in carvings, chair legs, and tops, lower value. Look for quality, rarity, condition, and provenance, which is a written history of authenticity.
Decorating your home with Chippendale furniture may be expensive but it creates a wonderful look for antique lovers. Chippendale style depends mostly on carvings for decoration. Hardwood floors with parquetry, which are wooden mosiacs inlaid in geometric designs on contrasting woods, add to the room. Carpets need to have small patterns. Appropriate fabrics for upholstery are tapestry, velvet, brocade, needlework and leather. Drapery fabrics include crewel embroidery, hand blocked linen, silk and worsted damask, velvet, and brocade. Popular period colors for both upholstery and draperies are full bodied burgundy, green, and yellow. Wall treatments where the upper portion is papered in a small patterned oriental motif is very attractive with Chippendale furniture. Classic medallions and garlands work well as accents, but accent pieces with gilding or lacqering should not be used. Chinese porcelain, needlepoint, and tapestry complement Chippendale style. Most Chippendale furniture is mahogany and mixes well with other styles of furniture except for oak furniture and furniture with gilding or lacquering.