Famous Antique Furniture Designers and Master Craftsmen
There’s no denying that antique furniture is beautiful. You don’t have to be a seasoned antique collector to know that. But if you are an antique furniture collector, take a look around your house. Do you know when your favorite chair was made? Was it designed in the Federal style of the Victorian style? Do you know who designed your favorite couch? Was it Thomas Chippendale? Or maybe it was Robert Adam? You may know this information, but unless you’ve done your research, you probably know very little about the history of antique furniture and antique furniture designers. In order to properly appreciate antique furniture, you have to know its history.
People have been making furniture for thousands of years. However, prior to the 17th century, furniture was used solely for its purpose, rather than as decoration. In the 16th century, people began to use furniture as a symbol of their wealth. For example, bed sizes grew larger and their designs more ornate to represent one’s status. However, professional furniture design wasn’t an extremely popular craft until the late 17th century. During this time, particularly in England, the middle class was increasing, so more and more people began to seek out well-designed furniture. That being said, the 18th century is when a multitude of furniture styles and sophisticated designs emerged. The most intricate pieces of antique furniture, what we would now call classics, were created between 1700 and 1900. Some of the most notable antique furniture designers, such as Hepplewhite and Chippendale, gained popularity in this time. Following the powerful Industrial Revolution in the 1900’s, furniture design as an art form died out; the Industrial Revolution was characterized by a transition to advanced manufacturing processes, which affected furniture design, amongst many other industries. Rather than commissioning furniture designers to create a single piece, furniture began to be mass produced. However, today, antique furniture is quite sought after because it’s both rare and unique.
If you’re an antique furniture collector and are interested in dating your pieces, it can be extremely helpful to first determine which type of wood your piece is made from. Different types of wood were popular during different time periods. For example, if you have a piece of antique mahogany furniture, your piece is most likely from the 18th or 19th century when mahogany and walnut were favored by antique furniture designers. If your piece is from this time period, there’s even a chance that it was made by Hepplewhite, Sheraton or Chippendale- some of the most famous antique furniture designers of all time, all of whom were active in the 18th century.
Thomas Chippendale, born in England in 1718, was a well-known cabinet maker in London. He preferred the mid-Georgian, English Rococo and Neoclassical furniture styles. He drew influence from ancient cultures, which is evident in each of his designs. Chippendale was so passionate about furniture design that he even wrote a book on the topic titled Gentlemen and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, which was the most extensive collection of furniture designs to be published in England. As was appropriate for the time period, Chippendale primarily worked with mahogany wood and several of his beautiful antique mahogany furniture items are still around today. Although Chippendale is known as an antique furniture designer, he did not entirely design his own styles but rather modified existing furniture styles, most notably the English Rococo style. While many furniture designs may seem like Chippendale’s work, very few can be positively attributed to the antique furniture designer.
Another antique furniture designer who is quite popular today is George Hepplewhite. There is very little known about Hepplewhite’s early life, but there is documentation of him owning a furniture shop in London. However, unlike Chippendale, Hepplewhite’s furniture designs weren’t popular until after several of his books featuring his furniture designs were published posthumously in 1788. Also unlike Chippendale, Hepplewhite’s designs were much more easily identifiable, although he did also work mostly with mahogany. Hepplewhite’s antique mahogany furniture designs are recognizable because his style was short and curved, with his chairs having shield-shaped backs. The books filled with his designs still inspire furniture designers today. So while the Hepplewhite style is alive and well, there are actually no known original Hepplewhite pieces still around today.
Alongside Chippendale and Hepplewhite, Sheraton is regarded as one of the most well-known furniture designers from 18th century England. Sheraton’s designs were inspired by the neoclassical style, so his pieces had straight lines and rectangular backs. Sheraton’s furniture designs very closely resembled the Federal style coined by Hepplewhite, although they were much plainer. Sheraton, like Chippendale and Hepplewhite, specialized in antique mahogany furniture, although he also used maple and pine woods. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Sheraton published several books featuring unique engraved designs and other furniture patterns created with his specific style. The books became quite popular both within England and internationally; in fact, During the federal period of the United States, the most popular furniture was designed in the Sheraton style.
Antique furniture designers have helped to create some of the best beautiful pieces of furniture, particularly of antique mahogany furniture. However, thanks to the era of mass-production as a result of the Industrial Revolution, these pieces can be very difficult to find. But don’t give up hope! If you do your research, you can both locate and identify types of antique furniture. Antique furniture designers like Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite, and Thomas Sheraton have inspired styles of furniture that are truly timeless. If you aren’t already an antique furniture fan, we hope that this article has given you a newfound appreciation for both the furniture itself and the design process.