Lucy Abbot Throop.

Furnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today online

. (page 5 of 12)
Online LibraryLucy Abbot ThroopFurnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today → online text (page 5 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

[Illustration: A chair from early in the 18th century of the Dutch type.]

[Illustration: One of the Chippendale patterns, dating from about 1750.]

[Illustration: Hepplewhite's characteristic shield-shaped back.]

[Illustration: Thomas Sheraton's rectangular type of chair-back.]

In about 1760 or 1765 he began to use the straight leg for his chairs.
The different shapes of splats will often help in deciding the dates of
their making, and its development is of great interest. The curves shown
in the diagram on page 84 are the merest suggestions of the outline of
the splat, and they were carved most beautifully in many different
designs. Ribbon-back chairs are dated about 1755 and show the adapted
French influence. His Gothic and Chinese designs were made about
1760-1770. Ladder-back chairs nearly always had straight legs, either
plain or with double ogee curve and bead moldings, but there are a few
examples of ladder-back and cabriole legs combined, although these are
very rare. The chair settees of the Dutch time, with backs having the
appearance of chairs side by side, were also made by Chippendale. "Love
seats" were small settees. It was na√ѓvely said that "they were too large
for one and too small for two." A large armchair that shows a decided
difference in the manners of the early eighteenth century and the
present day was called the "drunkard's chair."


When the craze for "Indian work" was at its height, there were many
pieces of old oak and walnut furniture covered with lacquer to bring it
up to the fashionable standard, but their forms were not suitable, and
oak especially, with its coarse grain did not lend itself to the
process. The stands for lacquer cabinets vary in style, but were often
gilded in late Louis XIV and Louis XV style. The difference between true
lacquer and its imitations is hard to explain. The true was made by
repeated coats of a special varnish, each rubbed down and allowed to
become hard before the next was put on. This gave a hard, cool, smooth
surface with no stickiness. Modern work, done with paint and French
varnish, has not this delightful feeling, but is nearly always clammy to
the touch, and the colors are hurt by the process of polishing.
Chippendale did not use much lacquer, but in the "Director" he often
says such and such designs would be suitable for it.

Much of the furniture that Chippendale made was heavy, but the best of
it had much beauty. His delicate fretwork tea-tables are a delight, with
their fretwork cupboards and carving. He seemed to combine many sides in
his artistic temperament, a fact that many people lay to his power of
assimilating the work of others. He did not make sideboards in our sense
of the word. His were large side-tables, sometimes with a drawer for
silver and sometimes not. Pier-tables were very much like them in shape,
but smaller, and were often gilded to match the mirrors which were
placed above them.

The larger pieces of Chippendale furniture have the same characteristic
of perfect workmanship and detail which the chairs possess.
Dining-tables were made in sections consisting of two semi-circular ends
and two center pieces with flaps which could all be joined together and
make a very large table. The beds he made had four posts and cornice
tops elaborately carved and often gilded, with a strong Louis XV
feeling. The curtains hung from the inside of the cornice. He also made
many other styles of beds, such as canopy beds, tent beds, flat tester
beds, Chinese beds, Gothic beds: there was almost nothing he did not
make for the house from wall brackets to the largest wardrobes.

To many people used to the simple Chippendale furniture which is
commonly seen, the idea of rich and beautiful carving and gilding comes
as a surprise, and even in the "Director" there are no plates which show
his most beautiful work. His elaborate furniture was naturally chiefly
order work, and so was not pictured, and much of it that is left is
still in the possession of the descendants of the original owners. The
small number of authentic pieces which have reached public sales have
been eagerly snapped up by private collectors and museums at large

[Illustration: It is interesting to compare the generous curves of the
Chippendale sofa with the greater severity of Hepplewhite's taste..]

In America much of the furniture called Chippendale was not made by
Chippendale himself, but was made after his designs and copied from
imported pieces by clever cabinet-makers here in the, then, colonies.
The average American of the eighteenth century was a simple and not over
rich person of good breeding and refined taste who appreciated the
fact that the elaborate furniture of England and France would not be
in keeping with life in America, and so either imported the simpler
kinds, or demanded that the home cabinet-maker choose good models for
his work. This partly explains why we have so much really good Colonial
furniture, and not so much of the elaborately carved and gilded variety.

[Illustration: A valuable collection of an Adam mirror, a block-front,
knee-hole chest of drawers, and a Hepplewhite chair.]

_Robert Adam_

Robert Adam was the second of the four sons of William Adam, and was
born in 1728. The Adam family was Scotch of good social position. Robert
early showed a talent for drawing. He was ambitious, and, as old Roman
architecture interested him above all other subjects, he decided that he
could attain his ideals only by study and travel in Italy. He returned
to England in 1758 after four years of hard work with the results of his
labors, the chief treasure being his careful drawings of Diocletian's
villa. His classical taste was firmly established, and was to be one of
the important influences of the eighteenth century.

Robert and James Adam went into partnership and became the most noted
architects of their day in England. The list of their buildings is long
and interesting, and much of their architectural and decorative work is
still in existence.

To many people it will seem like putting the cart before the horse to
say that Robert Adam had in any way influenced the style we call Louis
XVI, but it is a plausible theory and certainly an interesting one. Mr.
G. Owen Wheeler in his interesting book on "Old English Furniture" makes
a strong case in favor of the Adam Brothers. Classical taste was well
established in England by 1765, before the transition from Louis XV to
Louis XVI began, and Robert Adam published his book in parallel columns
of French and English, which shows it must have been in some demand in
France. The great influence of the excavations at Pompeii must naturally
not be underestimated, as it was far reaching, but with the beautiful
Adam style well developed, just across the Channel, it seems probable
that it may have had its share in forming French taste. The foundation
being there, the French put their characteristic touch to it and
developed a much richer style than that of the Adam Brothers, but the
two have so much in common that Louis XVI furniture may be put into an
Adam room with perfect fitness, and vice versa. As the Adams cared only
to design furniture some one else had to carry out the designs, and
Chippendale was master carver and cabinet-maker under them at Harewood
House, Yorkshire, and probably was also in many other instances.

[Illustration: A mantel of marble and steel in the drawing-room, Rushton
Hall, Northamptonshire - the work of the brothers Adam.]

[Illustration: Another Adam mantel. It is interesting to note how
clearly these mantels are the inspiration of our own Colonial work.]

The early furniture of Adam was plain, and the walls were treated with
much decoration that was classic in feeling. He possessed the secret of
a composition of which his exquisite decorations on walls and ceilings
were made. After 1770 he simplified his walls and elaborated his
furniture designs until they met in a beautiful and graceful harmony. He
designed furniture to suit the room it was in, and with the dainty and
charming coloring, the beauty of proportion and the charm of the wall
decoration, the scheme had great beauty.

[Illustration: This group of old mirrors indicates the extent to which
refinement of design was carried during the Georgian period in
England - the time of the great cabinet-makers.]

He used the ram's head, wreaths, honeysuckle, mythological subjects,
lozenge-shaped, oval and octagonal panels, and many other designs. He
was one of the first to use the French idea of decorating furniture with
painting and porcelain plaques, and the furniture itself was simple and
beautiful in line. The stucco ceilings designed by the brothers were
picked out with delicate colors and have much beauty of line.

A great deal of the most beautiful Adam decoration was the painting on
walls and ceilings and furniture by Angelica Kaufmann, Zucchi,
Pergolesi, Cipriani, and Columbani. The standard of work was so high
that only the best was satisfactory.

Adam usually designed his furniture for the room in which it was to
stand, and he often planned the house and all its contents, even to the
table silver, to say nothing of the door-locks. The chairs were of
mahogany, or painted, or gilded, wood. Some had oval upholstered backs,
with the covering specially designed for the room, and some had lyre
backs, later used so much by Sheraton, and others had small painted
panels placed in the top rail, with beautiful carving. Mirrors were
among the most charming articles designed by Adam, and had composition
wreaths and cupids and medallions for ornament. They were usually made
in pairs in both large and small sizes. A pair of antique mirrors
should be kept together, as they are very much more valuable than when

Adam was one of the first to assemble the pieces that later grew into
the sideboard - a table, two pedestals, and a cellaret. There is a
sideboard designed by him for Gillows, in which the parts are connected,
and it is at least one of the ancestors of the beautiful Shearer and
Hepplewhite ones and our modern useful, though not always beautiful,
article. When, late in his career, Adam attempted to copy the French, he
was not so successful, as he did not have their flexibility of
temperament, and was unable to give the warmer touch to the classic,
which they did so well. His paneled walls, however, have great dignity
and purity of line and feeling, and the applied ornament was really an
ornament, and not a disfigurement as too often happens in our day. With
Adam one feels the surety of knowledge and the refinement of good taste
led by a high ideal.

[Illustration: There are many details worthy of notice in this room, the
mahogany doors, the paneled walls with the old picture paper, the
over-mantel, the knife boxes on the sideboard, the Hepplewhite
furniture, and the side-lights. The chandelier is badly chosen.]

[Illustration: A fine old Hepplewhite sideboard, with old glass and
silver, but the modern wallpaper is not in harmony.]

[Illustration: A modern Hepplewhite settee, showing the draped scarf
carving he used so much.]


The work of Hepplewhite and his school lasted from about 1760 to 1795;
the last nine years of the time the business was carried on by his
widow, Alice, under the name of A. Hepplewhite & Co. For five years
after that some work was done after his manner, but it was distinctly
inferior. In the early seventies Hepplewhite's work was so well known
and so much admired that its influence was shown in the work of his
contemporaries. There was a great difference between his style and that
of Chippendale, his being much lighter in construction and effect,
besides the many differences of design. Hepplewhite was strongly
influenced by the French style of Louis XVI, and also the pure taste of
Robert Adam at its height. Hepplewhite, however, like all the great
cabinet-makers, both French and English, was a great genius himself and
stamped the impress of his own personality upon his work.

Many people date Hepplewhite's fame from the time of the publication of
his book, "The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Guide," in 1788, not
realizing that he had been dead for two years when it appeared. Its
publication was justified by the well established popularity of his
furniture and the success with which his designs were carried out by A.
Hepplewhite & Co.

It is interesting to notice the difference in the size of chairs which
became apparent during Hepplewhite's time. Hoop-skirts and stiffened
coats went out of fashion, and with them went the need of large chair
seats. The transition chairs made by Hepplewhite were not very
attractive in proportion, as the backs were too low for the width. The
transition from Chippendale to Hepplewhite was not sudden, as the last
style of Chippendale was simpler and had more of the classic feeling in
it. Hepplewhite says, in the preface to his book: "To unite elegance and
utility, and blend the useful with the agreeable, has ever been
considered a difficult, but an honorable task." He sometimes failed and
sometimes succeeded. His knowledge of construction enabled him to make
his chairs with shield, oval, and heart-shaped backs. The tops were
slightly curved, also the tops of the splats, and at the lower edge
where the back and the splat join, a half rosette was carved. He often
used the three feathers of the Prince of Wales, sheaves of wheat,
anthemion, urns, and festoons of drapery, all beautifully carved, and
forming the splat. The backs of his chairs were supported at the sides
by uprights running into the shield-shaped back and did not touch the
seat frame in any other way. With this apparent weakness of construction
it is wonderful how many of his chairs have come down to us in perfect
condition, but it was his knowledge of combining lightness with strength
which made it possible.

Hepplewhite used straight or tapering legs with spade feet for his
furniture, often inlaid with bellflowers in satinwood. The legs were
sometimes carved with a double ogee curve and bead molding. He did not
use carving in the lavish manner of Chippendale, but it was always
beautifully done, and he used a great deal of inlay of satinwood, etc.,
oval panels, lines, urns, and many other motives common to the other
cabinet-makers of the day, and also painted some of his furniture. His
Japan work was inferior in every way to that of the early part of the
eighteenth century. The upholstery was fastened to the chairs with
brass-headed tacks, often in a festoon pattern. Oval-shaped brass
handles were used on his bureaus, desks, and other furniture. He made
many sideboards, some, in fact, going back to the side table and
pedestal idea, and bottle-cases and knife-boxes were put on the ends of
the sideboards. His regular sideboards were founded on Shearer's design.

Shearer's furniture was simple and dainty in design, and he has the
honor of making the first real serpentine sideboard, about 1780, which
was not a more or less disconnected collection of tables and pedestals.
It was the forerunner of the Hepplewhite and Sheraton sideboards that we
know so well. Shearer is now hardly known even by name to the general
world, but without doubt his ideal of lightness and strength in
construction had a good deal of influence on his contemporaries and

Hepplewhite was very fond of oval and semi-circular shapes, and many of
his tables are made in either one way or the other. His sideboards,
founded on Shearer's designs, are very elegant, as he liked to say, in
their simplicity of line, their inlay, and their general beauty of wood.
He was most successful in his chairs, sideboards, tables, and small
household articles, for his larger pieces of furniture were often too
heavy. Some of the worst, however, were made by other cabinet-makers
after his designs, and not by Hepplewhite himself.


Thomas Sheraton was born in 1750, and was a journeyman cabinet-maker
when he went to London. His great genius for furniture design was
combined with a love of writing tracts and sermons. Unfortunately for
his success in life, he had a most disagreeable personality, being
conceited, jealous, and perfectly willing to pour scorn on his brother
cabinet-makers. This impression he quite frankly gives about himself in
his books. The name of Robert Adam is not mentioned, and this seems
particularly unpleasant when one thinks of the latter's undoubted
influence on Sheraton's work. Sheraton's unfortunate disposition
probably helped to make his life a failure.

It is very sad to see such possibilities as his not reaping their true
reward, for poverty dogged his steps all through life, and he was always
struggling for a bare livelihood. His books were not financially
successful, and at last he gave up his workshop and ceased to make the
furniture he designed. He was an expert draughtsman and his designs were
carried out by the skillful cabinet-makers of the day. Adam Black gives
a very pitiful account of the poverty in which Sheraton lived, and says:
"That by attempting to do everything he does nothing." His "nothing,"
however, has proved a very big something in the years which have
followed, for Sheraton is responsible for one of the most beautiful
types of furniture the world has known, and although his life was hard
and bitter, his fame is great.

Sheraton took the style of Louis XVI as his standard, and some of his
best work is quite equal to that of the French workmen. He felt the lack
of the exquisite brass and ormolu work done in France, and said if it
were only possible to get as fine in England, the superior
cabinet-making of the English would put them far ahead in the ranks. To
many of us this loss is not so great, for the beauty of the wood counts
for more, and is not detracted from by an oversupply of metal ornament,
as sometimes happened in France. "Enough is as good as a feast."
Sheraton, at his best, had beauty, grace, and refinement of line without
weakness, lightness and yet perfect construction, combined with balance,
and the ornament just sufficient to enhance the beauty of the article
without overpowering it. It is this fine work which the world remembers
and which gave him his fame, and so it is far better to forget his later
period when nearly all trace of his former greatness was lost.

[Illustration: A Sheraton bureau with a delightful little

Sheraton profited by the work of Chippendale, Adam, and Hepplewhite, for
these great men blazed the trail for him, so to speak, in raising the
art of cabinet-making to so high a plane that England was full of
skilled workmen. The influence of Adam, Shearer, and Hepplewhite, was
very great on his work, and it is often difficult to tell whether he
or Hepplewhite or Shearer made some pieces. He evidently did not have
business ability and his bitter nature hampered him at every turn. The
Sheraton school lasted from about 1790 to 1806. He died in 1806, fairly
worn out with his struggle for existence. Poor Sheraton, it certainly is
a pitiful story.

[Illustration: One of Sheraton's charming desks, with sliding doors made
of thin strips of wood glued on cloth.]

[Illustration: A sewing-table having the spirit of both Hepplewhite and

Sheraton's chair backs are rectangular in type, with urn splats, and
splats divided into seven radiates, and also many other designs. The
chairs were made of mahogany and satinwood, some carved, some inlaid,
and some painted. The splat never ran into the seat, but was supported
on a cross rail running from side to side a few inches above the seat.
The material used for upholstery was nailed over the frame with
brass-headed tacks.

Bookcases were of mahogany and satinwood veneer, and the large ones were
often in three sections, the center section standing farther out than
the two sides. The glass was covered with a graceful design in moldings,
and the pediments were of various shapes, the swan-neck being a

Sideboards were built on very much the lines of those made by Shearer
and Hepplewhite. There were drawers and cupboards for various uses. The
knife-boxes to put on the top came in sets of two, and sometimes there
was a third box. The legs were light and tapering with inlay of
satinwood, and sometimes they were reeded. There was inlay also on the
doors and drawers. There were also sideboards without inlay. The legs
for his furniture were at first plain, and then tapering and reeded. He
used some carving, and a great deal of satinwood and tulip-wood were
inlaid in the mahogany; he also used rosewood. The bellflower, urn,
festoons, and acanthus were all favorites of his for decoration.

He made some elaborate and startling designs for beds, but the best
known ones are charming with slender turned posts or reeded posts, and
often the plain ones were made of painted satinwood.

The satinwood from the East Indies was fine and of a beautiful yellow
color, while that from the West Indies was coarser in grain and darker
in color. It is a slow growing tree, and that used nowadays cannot
compare with the old, in spite of the gallant efforts of the hard
working fakirs to copy its beautiful golden tone.

All the cabinet-makers of the eighteenth century made ingenious
contrivances in the way of furniture, washstands concealed in what
appear to be corner cupboards, a table that looks as simple as a table
possibly can, but has a small step-ladder and book rest hidden away in
its useful inside, and many others. Sheraton was especially clever in
making these conveniences, as these two examples show, and his books
have many others pictured in them. Sheraton's list of articles of
furniture is long, for he made almost everything from knife-boxes to
"chamber-horses," which were contrivances of a saddle and springs for
people to take exercise upon at home.

Sheraton's "Drawing Book" was the best of those he published. It was
sold chiefly to other cabinet-makers and did not bring in many orders,
as Chippendale's and Hepplewhite's did. His other books showed his
decline, and his "Encyclopedia," on which he was working at the time of
his death, had many subjects in it beside furniture and cabinet-making.
His sideboards, card-tables, sewing-tables, tables of every kind,
chairs - in fact, everything he made during his best period - have a
sureness and beauty of line that makes it doubly sad that through the
stress of circumstances he should have deserted it for the style of the
Empire that was then the fashion in France. One or two of his Empire
designs have beauty, but most of them are too dreadful, but it was the
beginning of the end, and the eighteenth century saw the beautiful
principles of the eighteenth century lost in a bog of ugliness.

There were many other cabinet-makers of merit that space does not allow
me to mention, but the great four who stood head and shoulders above
them all were Chippendale, Adam, Hepplewhite and Sheraton. They, being
human, did much work that is best forgotten, but the heights to which
they all rose have set a standard for English furniture in beauty and
construction that it would be well to keep in mind.

The nineteenth century passed away without any especial genius, and in
fact, with a very black mark against its name in the hideous early
Victorian era. The twentieth century is moving along without anything we
can really call a beautiful and worthy style being born. There are many
working their way towards it, but there is apt to be too much of the
bizarre in the attempts to make them satisfactory, and so we turn to the
past for our models and are thankful for the legacy of beauty it has
left to the world.

_A General Talk_

When one faces the momentous question of furnishing a house, there are
numerous things which must be looked into and thoroughly understood if
success is to be assured. If one is building in the country the first
question is the placing of the house in regard to the view, but in town
there is not much choice. The architect being chosen with due regard to
the style of house one wishes, the planning can go merrily on. The
architect should be told if there are any especially large and beautiful
pieces of furniture or tapestry to be planned for, so they shall receive
their rightful setting. After all, architects are but human, and cannot
tell by intuition what furniture is in storage.

It is sad to see how often architecture and decoration are looked upon
as two entirely disconnected subjects, instead of being closely allied,

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryLucy Abbot ThroopFurnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today → online text (page 5 of 12)