Even the antique novice is moderately familiar with the term “Chippendale.” But while he or she may not be an expert on its origins, the untrained eye easily recognizes its ornate, florid style. Nevertheless, Chippendale pieces are often confused with Queen Anne, and early 20th century revival reproductions dilute truly authentic pieces. So, if you are restoring or looking for Chippendale furniture and hardware, what should you keep in mind?
A colonial period style in the Americas, the Chippendale aesthetic lasted from 1750 to 1780 and essentially emerged from but overlaps with Queen Anne in some regards. Queen Anne, for some background, is a transitional style, between William and Mary and Chippendale, lasting from 1720 to 1750. The elegant, refined look is considered to have introduced the cabriole leg – a Chippendale staple – and is characterized by fan and shell shapes, yoke-shaped top rails on chairs, and space-saving features. Out of these, the fan motif and yoke-shapes carried over into the Chippendale style, which can be considered more elaborate than Queen Anne.
Aside from the cabriole leg, of which there are six different variations for Chippendale furniture, a claw and ball foot, upholstery, and solid Mahogany are defining characteristics. Nevertheless, the look established by cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale encompassed a range of influences, including not only English style but also Chinese and Gothic motifs.
Because of the complex carving going into Chippendale furniture, pieces are generally made out of solid hardwood – particularly Mahogany from Cuban, Dominican, and Honduran origins, although domestic species can be found. Upholstery, as well, added brocade, velvet, and damask materials. However, within in the colonial United States, cabinet and furniture makers ranged from as far north as New England to the South, and styles and materials changed with area. In Connecticut, for instance, cherry was apparently preferred, while softer hardwoods, such as white pine, were more prevalent in other locations.
Chippendale was not exclusively a colonial American style, and furniture makers across the Atlantic created pieces with this look. What sets stateside-made furniture apart are two design qualities: a block front and a highboy, or a high chest of drawers.
Although Chippendale faded from popularity during the 19th century, it experienced a brief revival at the end of the Victorian period. Perhaps the elaborate look of both furniture styles caused a surge of interest over a century later, but as you shop around for and examine antiques, you might notice that a Chippendale revival piece has a somewhat more restrained look than its authentic 18th century counterparts – mainly, that the carving tends to have less depth. Today’s handmade reproductions remain incredibly popular, and unlike the revival from the the 19th century, the details are as good as, if not superior, to the original pieces.
Horton Brasses offers a selection of brass Chippendale reproduction hardware — ideal for restoring such period antiques. Aside from the elaborate look, three qualities set Chippendale-style hardware apart from other antique styles: a “bat wing” back plate with an attached bail, mushroom-shaped handles, and looped handles without back plates.