Woman in Grecian dress sitting in a room decorated in the Grecian style.

Shopping for Furniture in Georgian Times

Let us indulge in a shopping spree for furniture to fill our townhouse or country house. Perhaps a yellow striped damask sofa for the drawing room.

Whom shall we patronize?

If you are Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the fabulously wealthy scion of the Hoare banking family, you simply drop Chippendale a note and schedule Thomas Chippendale the younger to set up his workshop in the stable block of your house at Stourhead in Wiltshire. His workers will run you up whole rooms full of made to order furniture. Each piece is custom designed for you and you alone. The work Thomas Chippendale the younger produced for Stourhead House from 1795 to 1820 is outstanding. The furniture in the library and picture gallery is celebrated.

A mystery titled the The Grenadillo Box, written by former Sotheby's London employee Janet Gleeson, gives the reader a glimpse of the inside Thomas Chippendale's workshop.

Suppose you are wealthy, but of more modest means than the Hoare family. You might order a piece or two at a time from the large workshop of a well know furniture-maker like Gillow or George Seddon. The furniture would be worked on by a number of craftsmen each with a different specialty and would be of the highest quality. The next step down would be to look at warehouses that have show rooms of ready-made furniture produced by small time furniture makers working from their home. The pieces would be of exceptional quality by today's standards, but the piece would not be a masterpiece of the furniture-maker's art. One or two skilled workers who would be competent, but not at the top of their craft would have carried out all the work. The ready-made stock of a warehouse would be the closest experience to a modern day furniture store. If you are of very modest means you might have a joiner make you up a simple piece or look at second hand shops or flea markets for furniture.

Description of a furniture-maker's shop:

George Seddon (b c. 1727; d 1801) was the founder of the largest firm of furniture-makers in London in the 18th century. He became a freeman of the Joiners' Company, London, in 1751 and set up shop in Aldersgate Street in 1753. His workshop there was described by London visitor Sophie v. La Roche in 1786:
George Seddon's Shop
George Seddon's Shop

"We drove first to Mr. Seddon's, a cabinet-maker,...He employs four hundred apprentices on any work connected with the making of household furniture—joiners, carvers, gilders, mirror-workers, upholsterers, girdlers—who mould the bronze into graceful patterns—and locksmiths. All these are housed in a building with six wings. In the basement mirrors are cast and cut. Some other department contains nothing but chairs, sofas, and stools of every description, some quite simple, others exquisitely carved and made of all varieties of wood, and one large room is full up with all the finished articles in this line, while others are occupied by writing-tables, cupboards, chest of drawers, charmingly fashioned desks, chests, both large and small, work- and toilet-tables in all manner of wood and patterns, from the simplest and cheapest to the most elegant and expensive."

Secretaire Cabinet by George Seddon

A Fine example of a Satinwood Secretaire Cabinet, in original condition. Attributed to George Seddon Circa 1790

How will you decide on the pieces and designs?

You might want to follow the latest fad in furnishings or visit the homes of the great and let their choices guide yours. For ideas you might look through one of the many design books published at the time like Thomas Sheraton's 1791, Cabinet Maker's and Upholsterer's Drawing Book or Thomas Hope's 1807, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration.

What are the popular trends in style?

 Regency pier table designed by Thomas Hope, London ca.1800

The Neoclassical Period of furniture took its design characteristics from the classic Greek and Roman forms discovered by archaeologists in the eighteenth century. A new lightness of form predominated early neoclassical furniture. Such motifs as acanthus leaves, shells, architectural pediments, classical figures, fluted or square tapered legs, festoons and swags, caryatid supports and paterae were incorporated in this furniture design. For the decoration of Napoleon's home Malmaison in late 1799 Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine developed an appealing blend of the classical and the warlike that began the neoclassical fad. Thomas Hope (1769-1831) brought the new style to London when he opened the rooms on the first floor of his Duchess Street house containing his collection of Classical antiquities and vases, contemporary art and furniture to selected members of the public in 1804. Hope presented his vision to the public at large in his 1807 book, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration.

Horace Walpole's villa Strawberry Hill at Twickenham popularized the Gothic Revival style. Walpole leased the property in 1747 then bought it in 1749. Following his purchase, Strawberry Hill was remodeled in Gothic style. Horace Walpole's friend Richard Bentley designed a lantern for the entrance hall. Craftsman William Hallet (1707-1781) carried out the design in 1753. The architecturally influential country house Fonthill Abbey in SW Wiltshire built 1796-1807 by James Wyatt for William Beckford marked the beginning of the Gothic Fad.
Others rapidly embraced the new fad. Braziers Park situated within the Chiltern Hills is one of the many estates remodeled in the Gothic style. Of course Gothic revival homes must be furnished with Gothic Revival furniture.

Gothic Bookcase
A Regency period mahogany Gothic breakfront bookcase after a design by George Smith (A Collection of Designs for Household Furniture, 1808, plate 103). This magnificent neo-gothic antique bookcase contains a full size desk within the central case section, complete with numerous secret compartments.

Mahogany side cabinet with Egyptian caryatid mounts above reeded pilasters on the projecting front corners.Baron Dominique-Vivant Denon (1747 - 1825), who accompanied Napoleon on his expedition to Egypt, recording his travels in Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypte (1802), illustrated from his own drawings (it was published in English in the same year as Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt). This was followed by the publication of Description d'Egypte, the monumental engravings series by the L'Egypte et les savants a 175 persons Institut de France contigent which accompanied Napoleon to Egypt(1809-28), which revealed the wonders of the Pyramids and the Sphinx to Europeans. Between them the books and interest in Napoleon's Egyptian campaign set off Egyptomania. One of the first major buildings influenced by this style was Bullock's Museum or the Egyptian Hall. Thomas Chippendale the Younger made furniture in the Egyptian taste for Stourhead in Wiltshire, and Thomas Hope designed a special Egyptian room in his house, Deepdene, to contain his collection of Egyptian antiquities.

painted and caned Regency chair c.1810

The Prince Regent's decoration of the Brighton Pavilion set a trend. The Pavilion was redecorated in the period 1801 through 1815 in the "Chinoiserie" - or Chinese influence style. Rattan, bamboo and lacquer became the new fad. English furniture manufacturers wanted to reflect this style and so cane seating became more widely recognized. During the Regency period many "faux" bamboo chairs were made, some with finely crafted cane seats.

Regency ladies writing table or Bonheur du jour, made of  rosewoood with fine brass marquetry inlay, the drawers and legs with gilt-bronze mounts. English circa 1805The wide ranging exotic tastes of the Prince Regent (later George IV) left their mark on English furniture as the Regency style of the period 1800-30. Regency Style marks the last phase of the neoclassical style but embraces a number of different influences: including Greek, Roman, Chinese, and rococo. The design of Regency pieces was far less refined that the pure neoclassical style but possesses an exotic exuberance that has continued to be connected to English style rooms. Regency pieces tend to have such features as caning insets, lacquering of isolated parts, and brass galleries. We tend to think of the quintessential English Country room as a mixture of mahogany furniture, floral chintz fabric, striped damask fabric, blue and white china, with some lacquer and bamboo pieces thrown in.

What will our purchases cost?

The incomparable Diana and Minerva Commode
at Harewood House was produced by Thomas Chippendale for £86 in 1773.
A Lady's Dressing table £3 5s.
Horse-shoe Dining Table (7 foot) £2 2s.
Wing Clothes Press £5 5s.
Prices from The Cabinet-makers London Book of Prices and design of Cabinet-work by Thomas Shearer, 1788.

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