Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) was born in Otley in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England in June 1718. He became a cabinet-maker in London, designing furniture in the mid-Georgian, English Rococo, and Neoclassical styles. In 1754 he published a book of his designs, titled The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director, upon which success he became renowned. The designs are regarded as representing the current British fashion for furniture of that period and are now reproduced globally. He was buried 16 November 1779, according to the records of St Martin-in-the-Fields, in the cemetery since built upon by the National Gallery. Chippendale furniture is much valued; a padouk cabinet that was offered for auction during 2008 sold for £2,729,250.
Chippendale was born the only child of John Chippendale (1690-1768), joiner, and his first wife Mary (née Drake) (1693-1729). He received an elementary education at Prince Henry's Grammar School. The Chippendale family had long been involved with the wood working trades and so he probably received his basic training from his father, though it is believed that he was also trained by Richard Wood in York, before he relocated to London. Wood later ordered eight copies of the Director. On 19 May 1748 he married Catherine Redshaw at St George's Chapel, Mayfair and they had five sons and four daughters.
During 1749 Chippendale rented a modest house in Conduit Court, near Covent Garden. In 1752 he relocated to Somerset Court, off the Strand. In 1754 Chippendale relocated to 60-62 St Martin's Lane in London, where for the next 60 years the family business operated, until 1813 when his son, Thomas Chippendale (Junior), was evicted for bankruptcy. During 1754 he also began a partnership with James Rannie, a wealthy Scottish merchant, who put money into the business at the same time as Chippendale produced the first edition of the Director. Rannie and his bookkeeper, Thomas Haig, probably cared for the finances of the business. His wife, Catherine, died during 1772. After James Rannie died in 1766, Thomas Haig seems to have borrowed £2,000 from Rannie's widow, which he used to become Chippendale's partner. One of Rannie's executors, Henry Ferguson, became a third partner and so the business became Chippendale, Haig and Co. Thomas Chippendale (Junior) assumed management of the business in 1776 allowing his father to retire. He relocated to what was then called Lob's Fields (now known as Derry Street) in Kensington. Chippendale married Elizabeth Davis at Fulham Parish Church on 5 August 1777. He fathered three more children. In 1779 Chippendale relocated to Hoxton where he died of tuberculosis and was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 16 November 1779.
There is a statue and memorial plaque dedicated to Chippendale outside The Old Grammar School Gallery in Manor Square, in his home town of Otley, near Leeds, Yorkshire. There is a full-size sculpted figure of Thomas Chippendale on the façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
After working as a journeyman cabinet maker in London, during 1754, he became the first cabinet-maker to publish a book of his designs, titled The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director. Three editions were published, the first in 1754, followed by a virtual reprint in 1755, and finally a revised and enlarged edition in 1762, by which time Chippendale's illustrated designs began to show signs of Neoclassicism. Chippendale had considerable competition during his active years, most notably by Ince and Mayhew.
Chippendale was much more than just a cabinet maker, he was an interior designer who advised on other aspects of decor such as soft furnishings and even the colour a room should be painted. During the company's period of greatest success it could act like a modern interior designer working with other specialists and contract for the supply of fully decorated and furnished rooms or whole houses, once the principal construction was done. Chippendale often received large-scale commissions from aristocratic clients. Twenty-six of these commissions have been identified. Here furniture by Chippendale can still be seen. The locations include:
David Garrick's bed, c.1775, The bed was reduced from a double to a single in the 1860s, now in the V&A Museum
Chippendale's Director was used by many other cabinet makers. Consequently, recognisably "Chippendale" furniture was produced in Dublin, Philadelphia, Lisbon, Copenhagen and Hamburg. Catherine the Great and Louis XVI both possessed copies of the Director in its French edition. The Director shows four main styles: English with deep carving, elaborate French rococo in the style of Louis XV furniture, Chinese style with latticework and lacquer, and Gothic with pointed arches, quatrefoils and fret-worked legs. His favourite wood was mahogany; in seat furniture he always used solid wood rather than veneers.
The workshop was continued by his son, Thomas Chippendale, the younger (1749-1822), who worked in the later Neoclassical and Regency styles, "the rather slick delicacy of Adam's final phase", as Christopher Gilbert assessed it. A bankruptcy and sale of remaining stock in the St. Martin's Lane premises in 1804 did not conclude the company's latest phase, as the younger Chippendale supplied furniture to Sir Richard Colt Hoare at Stourhead until 1820 (Edwards and Jourdain 1955: 88).