Chippendale style furniture: history and style guide

25 June 2019

Chippendale style furniture rose to prominence during the 18th century, and it is still popular among antique furniture collectors today.


The style is named after world-renowned cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale. Chippendale furniture was the first English style to be named after an artisan rather than a monarch, recognised for its revolutionary designs and quality.



Who was Thomas Chippendale?


Thomas Chippendale was born in Yorkshire in 1718 and made his fortune as a cabinet-maker in London in the mid-18th century. 


Chippendale was born into a woodworking family where he likely received his first training in the furniture trade before moving to London. He partnered with James Rannie, a merchant who financed the business while Chippendale worked on his designs.


In 1754, Chippendale published a book of his furniture designs, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director. The catalogue popularised Chippendale designs and influenced the tastes of society in England and further afield for many years to come.


Following publication of the Cabinet Maker's Director, Chippendale received large-scale interior design commissions from wealthy and aristocratic clients. Many other cabinet-makers also started reproducing his designs and emulating his style. As a result, Chippendale furniture was produced in Hamburg, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Dublin, and Philadelphia.


Chippendale’s largest and perhaps most famous commission was in 1767 when he was asked to furnish Harewood House in Yorkshire. Today, the stately home houses some of the finest original Chippendale furniture.


Chippendale is still regarded as one of the most influential English furniture designers, and his name has become synonymous with the distinctive furniture style that he created.


What does Chippendale furniture look like?


The furniture designs in Chippendale’s Cabinet Maker's Director combine elements of Gothic, Rococo and Chinese styles. From the 1760s, Chippendale was influenced by the distinctive Neoclassical architecture of Robert Adam, with whom he collaborated on several projects.


The influence of Gothic furniture was evident in S-shaped curves and pointed arches carved into the backs of Chippendale chairs, and into the wooden glazing bars and pediments of bookcases.


Chinese styling can be found in the pagoda-style pediments of china cabinets, and glazing bars carved with fretwork. Similar fretwork can be seen on the edges of tea tables, and on chair backs and legs. Some Chinese Chippendale furniture was ‘Japanned’, or coated with paintwork imitating Asian lacquer work.


The influence of Rococo on Chippendale style furniture


Today, Chippendale style furniture generally refers to English furniture made in a modified Rococo style.


Chippendale’s Rococo-influenced designs were in part a reaction to the staid formality of earlier periods. However, he adapted the elaborate French style for the somewhat less extravagant English market.


This Rococo Chippendale Style Pine Fire Surround is a fine example of this style with its large floral cartouche and foliate decoration.



His Rococo designs include French chairs based on the Louis XV style, embellished dining tables and ornate gilded antique mirrors


Perhaps his most famous design is the broad-seated ribbon back chair. This featured a centre support made up of highly decorative carved ribbons and a cupid’s bow-shaped back rail.


Spotting Chippendale style furniture


Original Chippendale furniture pieces are rare and can fetch extraordinary prices at auction. 


However, the Chippendale style of furniture remained popular for over two hundred years in the UK, Europe and America. As a result, it’s possible to find beautiful Chippendale styles from the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries.


A distinctive feature of Chippendale style furniture is the Queen Anne-style Cabriole leg. This is a graceful, serpentine leg ending in a distinctively-carved foot. These feet include the lion’s paw, the club, and the ball and claw, which look like an eagle’s talon clutching a ball.


Chippendale style furniture designs are generally made of mahogany but can also be made of walnut, cherry, or maple.


Chippendale style furniture in our collection


Our antique collection includes a number of beautiful pieces in the Chippendale style


This beautifully carved English 19th Century Oak Mirror is made in the Rococo Chippendale furniture manner. It has shell, rocaille floral and scroll work typical of the period.



This Chippendale Giltwood Wall Mirror, circa 1795, is topped by a large mythical Ho-Ho bird with its wings outspread and framed by gilt acanthus scrolls, rosettes and foliate details.



This 19th Century Giltwood Overmantel Mirror also has a Rococo Chippendale design. It is topped with a fruit bowl crest and features an elaborately carved acanthus frame.



This rare pair of Chippendale Style Satinwood Commodes, circa 1900, features a delicately carved top drawer over ornately painted lower drawers and panelled side cupboards.


If you’d like to know more about our Chippendale style pieces, or any antique furniture in our collection, please do get in touch.