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300th anniversary of Thomas Chippendale: The life and work of the Otley-born designer

A statue of Thomas Chippendale the world famous furniture maker
A statue of Thomas Chippendale the world famous furniture maker

Today marks the anniversary of Thomas Chippendale’s 300th birthday, and with this the nation reflects and celebrates one of it’s most famed furniture designers.

Thomas Chippendale was born in Otley, Yorkshire, 1718 and died in London in 1779.

Thomas Chippendale was born in Otley, Yorkshire, 1718 (Photo: Simon Hulme)

Thomas Chippendale was born in Otley, Yorkshire, 1718 (Photo: Simon Hulme)

He was born into a family of Yorkshire carpenters and although details of his early career are unknown, in 1748, aged 30, he moved to London where he set up as a cabinet-maker.

In 1754 Chippendale published The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, a pattern book which strongly secured his position as one of the most eminent cabinet-makers of the 18th century.

Chippendale’s workshop was located on St Martins Lane, which was the newly fashionable centre of the furniture making trade in London. From this workshop Chippendale undertook many large-scale furnishing projects for grand houses throughout Britain.

During the 18th century there was an increasing demand for luxury goods and Chippendale’s Director provided for this market with around 160 engravings of fashionable furniture designs.

The Director, published by subscription, was an instant success and was reissued in 1755, and again in 1762, with additional plates in the new Neo-classical style.

Subscribers included aristocrats and cabinet-makers, bringing Chippendale many lucrative commissions, with his firm supplying all manner of furnishings and household equipment.

His designs were influential not only in Britain, but throughout Europe and America, ‘Chippendale’ becoming a shorthand description for any furniture similar to his Director designs.

Chippendale and Harewood House

In 1767, Chippendale received the largest and most lucrative commission of his career, worth more than £10,000, when he furnished the newly built Harewood House, West Yorkshire.

Located just a few miles from his birthplace in Otley, Chippendale furnished all of the rooms at Harewood untouched, providing a vast range of furniture and soft furnishings including: tables, chairs, sofas, beds, commodes, looking glasses, curtains, pelmets, wallpaper, carpets and covers.

He also provided also simple, functional items such as garden benches.

Today, Harewood House is home to some of the most outstanding pieces of Chippendale furniture ever produced.

In order to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Chippendale’s birth, a series of exhibitions and displays are currently available for the public to see and both demonstrate and take inspiration from Chippendale’s brilliance as a designer, maker and a decorator.

Celebrating Chippendale

Chippendale's 300th anniversary has been toasted in his hometown of Otley, where renowned furniture maker and designer was baptised at Otley All Saints Parish Church on June 5, 1718.

To celebrate his local origins a month of special events, entitled Celebrating Chippendale: Otley's Famous Son, has been launched.

The celebrations began on Saturday, June 2 with a birthday party at the Stew and Oyster pub - formerly the Old Grammar School where Chippendale is thought to have been educated.

The party not only featured 18th-century music by local choir Sally's Army, led by Sally Egan of Opera North, but a commemorative Chippend'Ale beer which was created by Otley's Briscoe Brewery.

The festival continues throughout June with a series of talks, walks, concerts and demonstrations, all of which highlight Chippendale's importance and his place in design history.

Tonight there will also be a classical concert held in All Saints Parish Church where Chippendale was baptised on June 5, 1718.

A statue of Chippendale also now stands outside the former grammar school in order to mark the man once considered to be the maker of England's finest furniture.

Chippendale’s work was luxurious, innovative and extremely fashionable and continues to be remembered not only in Otley, but around the globe, especially today on the anniversary of his 300th birthday.