What is Chippendale Furniture?
Chippendale furniture is the creation of Thomas Chippendale, a London-based cabinetmaker who worked in the 18th century. He designed furniture in a variety of styles, including Rococo and Neoclassical, before he set out to revolutionize the industry by creating a new bold style. In 1754, Chippendale published a book called "The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director," known today as the foremost guide to this furniture and other styles of the time.
Featuring either straight or slightly curved lines, Chippendale furniture is generally considered to have a refined and graceful form. It's a blend of Rococo, Gothic, and Chinese styles, providing a clear example of a mix between form and function. Most examples of this style of furniture include square, tall, boxed-up structures with lots of drawers or miniature doors. While the pieces themselves were plain, the decoration used was not. Carved tops, family crests, and intricate knobs are all essential to the style.
The signature structure of Chippendale furniture is the cabriole leg. This type of leg can be either straight or curved, but it always ends in a distinctive foot, such as a lion’s paw, or the ball and claw, which mimics an eagle foot holding a ball. While styles of this furniture varied somewhat between England and America, the distinctive leg form remained the same.
This furniture was usually constructed using fine hardwoods, such as mahogany and cherry. Mahogany imported from the West Indies was a favorite, but Cuban and Jamaican woods were also popular. Expensive fabrics like velvet were the main choice for upholstery and decoration.
Chippendale furniture has been extensively reproduced. Chippendale himself never marked his creations, making it harder for collectors to locate original pieces. One of the best ways for collectors to find original items is to look for uneven joints and tool marks, as the furniture was made entirely by hand and does not have the perfect angles of a mass-produced product. Another important characteristic is the quality of the design on the legs: no matter the style, it should have finely detailed legs and feet. A rough finish usually indicates a reproduction.
Cuba and Jamaica are part of the West Indies, and Cuban mahogany is the one he used the most, at least in most collectors' catalogues.
@Vinzenzo -- yes, Chippendale furniture is expensive but there are some experts out there who can help collectors buy the real stuff and avoid the fakes. One of the things that inflates the prices of furniture is the cost involved in separating authentic Chippendale furniture from the fake stuff out there.
Woe to you if you develop a taste for Chippendale furniture. That stuff is expensive and the chances of buying a counterfeit piece of furniture labeled as "Chippendale" is somewhat high.
Still, these pieces are right up there with the Holy Grail so far as a lot of collectors are concerned. Proceed with caution when shopping for those antiques, though, and get ready to spend a lot of money.
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