How to Identify Chippendale Furniture

If you are a fan of beautiful, high-quality furniture, then Chippendale pieces are for you. Considered among the hallmarks in design and craftsmanship, Chippendale furniture pieces are classics that are highly sought by connoisseurs. In fact, authentic ones crafted in the 18th century can fetch up to six figures in the market. But if your budget is on the tight end, you can always invest in cheaper modern replicas which, when made by outstanding craftsmen, can be virtually identical to the originals. They key is in knowing the elements that separate Chippendale furniture from the rest.

What is Chippendale?

The style’s name comes from Thomas Chippendale, an English cabinetmaker born in the 1700s. The son of a carpenter, Mr. Chippendale (as he was called in London at the time) was noted not just for his craft, but also for his fascination for high society. Despite his abilities, he did not enjoy much popularity until he published his own book.

Chippendale understood the value of advertising in business and so decided to use it to his advantage. In 1754, he published Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, a detailed portfolio of his work. The book contained design templates of English furniture pieces that were considered fashionable during the period. In the book were 160 plates containing designs that combined a variety of styles, most notably Gothic, Chinese, and Rococo. While the book was originally meant to serve as a catalog for Chippendale’s patrons, it became immensely popular even among fellow makers and sellers of furniture. Soon, other furniture makers were taking their inspiration from the publication to satisfy the large demand from wealthy customers. The book’s influence was such that Chippendale’s name was given to the design.

What makes a Chippendale?

As mentioned above, the Chippendale style is derived from several pre-existing motifs. Some of these styles overlap with each other, so it is possible to find furniture pieces that exhibit characteristics of two or more styles. Here are the most common identifiable factors of a Chippendale:

  1. Wood. As you can expect from top-quality furniture, Chippendale pieces are made only from the best wood. This is to ensure that the resulting furniture can be carved without any compromise on its sturdiness and longevity. Veneer is not used, so Chippendale furniture owes their shine and smoothness to the patience of their craftsmen and the sheer quality of the material used.Different customers preferred different types of wood, the most popular among which included walnut, cherry, and maple. The English were also huge fans of oak. The finest Chippendale were made from high-grade mahogany imported from the West Indies. Cuban mahogany was a favorite because of its rich, dark hue and its density and rigidity. By the end of the 18th century though, makers were also using mahogany from Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and Honduras.
  2. Legs. Chippendale is highly influenced by the Queen Anne style, which explains the popularity of the cabriole leg. There are six types of legs used in the Chippendale style: the ball and the claw, the lion’s paw, the club, the late Chippendale, the Marlborough, and the spade. The first three are based on the cabriole shape. This is characterized by a serpentine style that ends with a specific foot. The ball and the claw is a foot that resembles an eagle’s claw holding a ball; the lion’s paw looks like the foot of a lion. Lastly, the club is a simple round foot.The rest of the legs are straight. The Marlborough refers to a plain, square leg; the late Chippendale is a square foot on a square leg. The spade is a square leg with a circle or trapezoid foot. Chinese-inspired furniture also have straight legs that are often embellished with ornate carvings.
  3. Form. Contrary to popular belief, the Chippendale style is not all about just chairs and tables. As a businessman, Mr. Chippendale was very versatile and answered to the needs of as many of his customers as he could. As such, his body of work in design is extensive. You’d find Chippendale vanities, drawers, chests, and even chimney pieces, among others. Chinese Chippendale, pieces that were deeply inspired by Eastern aesthetics, are also part of the collection and was preferred by patrons as storage for actual Chinese porcelain. For this reason, you should be prepared for variety if you want a Chippendale for your home.
  4. Details. Chippendale furniture are known for having highly intricate carvings made possible by the use of premier-quality wood. Some of the most popular designs used in the carvings are leaves, flowers, seashells, and ribbons, to name a few. It is worth noting that authentic Chippendales were handmade and were not perfect. Some chairs may have armrests of unequal length or some legs may not have perfectly identical carvings. These imperfections are natural, however, and do not serve to diminish the quality of the furniture.
  5. Price. Even despite his reputation at the time, Mr. Chippendale sometimes had difficulty securing payments from his customers. This is a far cry from how collectors and connoisseurs today are willing to pay astronomical prices just for an authentic 18th century piece. As a furniture style, Chippendale includes the works of other makers with the same aesthetics. If you need quick, solid indications that you are buying authentic period pieces, watch out for two things: price and paperwork. Genuine Chippendale command prices in the six-figure range. Also, authentic pieces are accompanied with certificates from experts asserting that they are indeed the real thing. If you find a seller offering you cheap Chippendale without the right papers, you might be investing only in a reproduction.

Chippendale furniture is prized for their ability to add a touch of sophistication and elegance to any space they occupy. If you want an authentic 18th century antique for your home, take adequate care in ensuring that it is the real thing.