18th century furniture makers
Working mostly in mahogany, a wood that is particularly suited
for carving, Chippendale made the carved chair a must have.
Rococo Chippendale has carved cabriole legs and French-style
scrolled feet. His Gothick style incorporated the motifs of
the Gothic era, only with a lighter hand and in more delicate
and elegant wood. Fascinated by Chinese and Japanese designs,
Chippendale introduced Orientalism and chinoiserie to English
cabinetry. “Chinese Chippendale” is characterized by outscrolled
arms, chamfered legs and pierced stretchers.
Chippendale, however, was not the only influential cabinet maker in the 18th
century. Robert Adams’s furniture is lighter in appearance than
Chippendale’s, better exemplifying later 18th century move toward
simplification and refinement. His legs usually have the typically
Adams touches of straight tapered legs.
Hepplewhite’s shield-back chair was one of the most popular chair in the late
18th century, although Hepplewhite also designed chairs with
backs in serpentine shapes of ovals, lyres and hearts.
Hepplewhite settees were often made with show-wood gilt frames, carved, with fluted legs.
The backs’ sinuous line, as well as the carved decorations in
foliage motifs show Hepplewhite’s French influence.
Probably the most popular chairs in the late 18th century were the Sheraton chairs. With their rectangular, upright backs, these chairs stood in marked
contrast to the curved designs of other cabinetmakers.
Provincial furniture and items made in the American colonies often combined
and mixed styles of different periods, such as putting a Chippendale
back and Adams legs on a Queen Anne seat.
Settees and Sofas
Popular in both England and in the Colonies, from c. 1700, settees,
or settles as they were first called, were first made of oak
in England, and of pine and walnut in America. The settle was
really an elongated chair with enough room for two or more people,
depending on the design. The backs were double or triple chair
back form and the piece matched the design of the chairs it
These pieces of furniture became comfortable almost immediately of
their incipience. From c.1700 to 1735, most settees were made
of walnut. Chippendale began making them in mahogany, to capitalize
on the wood’s carving potential. Some Chippendale settees have
straight molded and chamfered legs and plain stretchers, while
others are more ornate, both carved and gilded. Chippendale
and Hepplewhite as well as Adams often made their setees fully
upholstered or with a carved frame that exposed the wood (show-wood).
Sofas were larger and more comfortable than settees. However, the 18th century used the terms interchangeably and few people differentiated between the styles. Styles of sofas were also influenced by the styles
of chairs. Sheraton and Adams particularly placed their emphasis
on symmetry and lightness of design and look.
One of the most popular piece of furniture in the 18th century was
the window seat. No fashionable 18th century lady would have
accepted a morning room without a sunny window nook occupied
by an elegant, comfortable and charming window seat on which
she could be seen to best advantage in stylish contemplation.
Many a young heroine of 18th century novel passed her hour curled
in her favorite window seat.
Of course, no self-respecting, au currant hostess would fail to
provide several card games to her guests. Queen Anne card tables
were baize-lined on the inside. Tables had carved counter-wells
and candle stands. Most were made of walnut in the early 18th
century, and also of mahogany in the later part of the century.
Another purely English phenomenon was the Tea table. Often built as a tripod table, this item was not particularly popular on the Continent. These
tables were designed to serve as stands for silver tea kettles
and their heaters. However, they also held other decorative and useful
items such as flower vases, prized china, and painted miniatures.
In the Chippendale period, side tables were most commonly made
of mahogany and decorated with carving.
Dining rooms were another area of the house that developed in
importance in the 18th century. While the old baronial hall
always included an imposing and public dining room, the dining
room of the 18th century was designed to accommodate both large
and more intimate dinners `en famille’. Dining furniture took
The gate leg, which reached its popularity height in the very early
part of the century, became outmoded when the drop-leaf table
appeared. More refined and more comfortable, since it allowed
for more people to sit around a single table, the drop-leaf
table was usually made of Virginia walnut or mahogany. Chippendale
introduced the D-ended dining table for polished mahogany.
The drop-leaf table was made even more popular as it took the
form of a pedestal tables, i.e., dining tables with a central
leg, in c1780. Smaller tables were used as “breakfast tables.”
Refectory and farmhouse tables were generally made of oak and were less
refined, as their names suggest.
The dining table was only one of several pieces the 18th century
saw as essential to any well-furnished dining room. Oak cupboard
dressers were quintessential to all dining rooms. These cabinets
were used as serving tables and for storage. Many were intricately
carved, most had the popular cabriole legs, and some were crafted
from yew and fruitwood.
Serving tables became immediately popular in the early part
of the 18th century, c.1730, and remained in popular use until
the next century. Early styles were made with marble tops, and
were heavily carved and gilded.
Chippendale introduced a lighter style of side tables and a
restrained, but more elegant carving decorations. In great part
due to Chippendale’s influence, Gothic motifs were popular from
the mid century.
c. 1775, Robert Adams introduced what became the latest mode,
en suite pedestal tables to hold urns, cutlery and bottles of
wine. 20 years later, Sheraton brought his simplified stylishness.
Some of the 18th century playfulness shows itself in the smaller
accessories of the dining room.
Kitchens were built at a great distance from the dining room
in order to keep the smell of burning or cooking food from the
rest of the house, and to prevent smoke and grease damage to
the furniture and drapery. Such inconveniences as the distance
between the kitchen and the dining room gave birth to such odd
innovations in servant training such as requiring the serving
maids or under-footmen to whistle while they walked from the
kitchen to the dining room. The logic was that one couldn’t
whistle and taste the food at the same time.
Extremely decorative urns made of mahogany were used to serve
iced water or to hold water for washing the cutlery in the dining
room — a necessary task since sending a servant to the kitchen
for clean cutlery took too much time. Urns stood on top of matching
sideboard pedestals. Some urns made by Adams were even used
for storage of dishes and linen.
A beautifully carved, ebonied or inlaid knife box was also a
must-have accessory for any well-equipped dining room as were
plate buckets, a rather ingenious invention, an urn-like bucket
used for carrying and handing out dining plates.
Wine coolers and cellarets were made to hold drink bottles. Wine
coolers looked similar to cellarets, but often without lids.
Cellarets were lined with lead and were carefully and beautifully
designed and decorated. Shapes ranged from round to box-like,
to even sarcophagi shaped.
A particularly English invention was the Dumb Waiter which stood in the corner of the dining room. Most often made of mahogany, it held sauce boats
and other condiments when servants were not present.
In the last quarter of the 18th century, furniture makers moved toward the use of veneered satinwood. Table tops and even the legs were sometimes inlaid, rather than carved. As the century moved toward its end, and
the Prince Regent made his taste more and more pervasive, the
simple refinement created and nurtured by the great cabinetmakers
of the 18th century developed into the magnificent refinement
of the Regency period.