Thomas Chippendale was an English cabinet-maker of great distinction, born an only child in Otley, West Yorkshire, in 1718. He was educated at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley, and learned his trade initially from his father John Chippendale, who was a joiner, before also receiving training from Richard Wood of York.
Many of his early furniture designs were based on the mid-Georgian, English Rococo and Neoclassical styles.
His notoriety in this industry was probably partly as a Chippendales curse result of a book which he published in 1754, entitled “The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director”, in which he illustrated 161 engraved plates of ‘Elegant and Useful Designs of Household Furniture in the Gothic, Chinese and Modern Taste’ which subsequently became used by other cabinet-makers of the time, and was regarded as setting the popular trend for cabinet furniture made around this period.
Chippendale was best known for his desks and secretaries and he was the first to design the Pembroke table which had a drop-leaf design with an oblong or rectangular fixed centrepiece which contained a drawer underneath. His favourite wood to work with was mahogany and he always used solid woods to construct his furniture and not veneers and it was by necessity and well as perhaps by choice because of the deep carving and details that he used.
In fact so popular were Chippendale’s designs, that he soon found that he was being commissioned by a number of aristocratic clients, not just to design their furniture pieces, but also to use his talents as an interior designer, advising on colour schemes and soft furnishings. Some of these commissions include those at Blair Castle for the Duke of Atholl, Wilton House for the 10th Earl of Pembroke, and at Petworth House, for George Wyndham, the 3rd Earl of Egremont. Chippendale also collaborated on large interior design projects with other notables of the time including Robert Adam and Sir William Chambers.
For 60 years the Chippendale family business operated out of premises at 60-62 St.Martin’s Lane, near Covent Garden, London, until 1813, when the bankruptcy of his son, Thomas Chippendale Junior, who had taken over the running of the family business in 1766, forced the closure of the business.