People have always been interested in furniture – to have and to collect.
They are intrigued with the many things that can make one piece entirely distinctive from another – lines, finish, detail, type of wood, period, origin, and, especially with antique furniture, the cabinet makers name and art.
Cabinetmaker pieces reflect the distinct style of the artisan, sometimes exotic art forms and expensive woods, sometimes smooth pleasing forms, sometimes light but sturdy design, or exquisite carvings, or delicate inlays. The style instantly brings to mind the names of those cabinetmakers, especially those who have been especially recognized for their skills beyond comparison.
The great 18th century English furniture designers and cabinetmakers Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton are among those instantly recognized.
Chippendale. Thomas Chippendale was the first English furniture maker whose name became attached to a style. His furniture designs, often described as Anglicized rococo, are examples of what many intuitive persons accomplished when they worked to improve what was already there, started a new concept or appearance by improvising on older styles.
He developed his own unique styles by starting with familiar Queen Anne elements and combining them with rococo adornments – sometimes embellishing that combination further with Oriental and European classical details. The Oriental influence in often showed up in the carvings and configuration of his pieces.
Mahogany was replacing walnut as the standard for luxury furniture, and it was Chippendale’s choice in wood.
Smooth flowing French styles are found in Chippendale’s settees and sofas, and as dining became more private, he began to produce the pie-crust top tilt-top tables we associate with him. His designed chairs were characterized by the vigorous curving cabriole legs with claw-and-ball feet.
Hepplewhite. George Hepplewhite is famous for his neoclassicial French-biased designs of variances of Adam brothers forms.
Unlike Chippendale, Hepplewhite preferred soft satinwood and rosewood, using these fine woods as veneers over a base mahogany body. He also sometimes employed tiger stripe maple and grain pattern mahogany.
Hepplewhite’s motifs in veneer included his most often applied threefeather symbol of the Prince of Wales. Other embellishments included shell, spread wing eagles and sunbursts.
His later productions revealed more graceful conformities of classical motifs. Instead of the cabriole legs found on many Chippendale pieces, Hepplewhite employed square slender tapering legs with small spade feet. His pieces were light weight, very finely detailed and delicate, and a bit smaller than previous cabinet makers produced.
Later he often employed a mixture of classical and other favorite styles.
Most famous of Hepplewhite forms is the back of his dining chairs – an outlined shield design. This symbol became his signature.
Sheraton. Thomas Sheraton is as well known as his two counter-parts, but was not as affluent. He never owned his own shop instead he was more of an itinerant cabinet-maker, always low in funds he also worked as a preacher, art master, printer and bookseller to earn a living.
As did the other cabinet-makers he combined previous accepted designs and become known for his feminine refinement of late Georgian neoclassical design. A signature of Sheraton pieces is his use of more straight lines.
Sheraton preferred to mix species of wood, probably to utilize their choice characteristics. Mahogany with satinwood or mahogany veneer, cherry with tiger or bird’s eye maple, or maple with tiger or plain grain.
Sheraton used both carving and painted decoration, such as a floral motif, as adornment.