Thomas Chippendale - Famous for Furniture

If you were to ask people randomly for the name of a famous English furniture maker from the past I would guess that many would answer, "Chippendale". There have probably been many thousands of of makers during the years that Chippendale made furniture and yet his name stands out with many others long forgotten. What was it that made Chippendale such a household name and so well known even today, centuries later?

Thomas Chippendale was born in Otley in the county of Yorkshire in the year 1718 and died in 1779. Thomas was the only child and born into a family of carpenters. In 1748 Thomas moved to London and set up a business as a cabinet maker. In London he also married and had a large family, five boys and four girls.

Chippendale's master stroke of genius was to publish his pattern book, The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director. This book contained 160 engravings of fashionable furniture designs, a real marketing coup that set him ahead of the competition. It was published by subscription and was a great success and was reissued again in 1775 and 1762. Chippendale's designs were exactly what the wealthy of the day were looking for. Chippendale was able to offer variations on his designs as well as bespoke pieces.

Success came quickly and by 1755, Thomas Chippendale employed between 40 to 50 craftsmen. It's most likely that although we say 'made by Chippendale' that he never made any furniture himself but concentrated on the design and the slick marketing of his business. He was much more than just a furniture designer /maker and today we would give him the title of 'interior designer'.

Dealing with wealthy clients can be problematic, it is today and was then. The rich generally like to pay late, to have accounts so there money can earn more interest or be used in their business for longer before parting with it. The expression, 'put it on my account' was well used! This creates cash flow problems for businesses who have to pat for raw materials as well as pay wages and other costs. Chippendale found that cash flow was a constant problem. He went into partnership with with a wealthy Scottish merchant, James Rannie and a while later, Thomas Haig, an accountant.

In the year 1776, Chippendale's son, also called Thomas took over the business. However, continuing financial difficulties along with the death of Thomas Haig saw the business close its doors in 1804. Thomas (the son) was born in 1749 and died in 1822. Although the company had gone bankrupt, Thomas junior continued making furniture and supplied furniture to the banker Sir Richard Colt Hoare for his home at Stourhead, Wiltshire.

The Chippendale name lives on because so much of the furniture made is still in existence today and highly desirable when it comes onto the market. There is a Chippendale Society which owns a collection of Chippendale furniture and a visit to their website is worthwhile.