The Madcaps visit to England: In Search of Thomas Chippendale
Every July, John and I visit England to explore numerous country houses, museums, gardens, and more that lend heaps of inspiration to our designs—from products to interior schemes. We are just back from our annual UK pilgrimage, and the trip was an absolute delight. Each summer we pick a new region of the country and a new theme that might tie-in to something topical—say, the landscapes of Capability Brown that we explored in Summer 2017 or, in this summer’s case, the work of master furniture maker Thomas Chippendale who was born in northern England in 1718 and whose legacy is being celebrated to tie-in with his tercentenary.
A native of Otley, England, Thomas Chippendale moved to the English capital and became one of the leading cabinetmakers of his era. Fast-forward three centuries, and his name has become a household word that personifies excellence in the craft of furniture. So why do we know Mr. Chips and not his many other cabinet-making contemporaries that were also working in London during the same era? Chippendale wrote a book, a very popular book that was reprinted numerous times. In 1754, Chippendale published The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, a pattern book that was an instant success—and that would secure his position in the furniture superstar panoply, even though he never received a significant royal commission.
To celebrate the 300th anniversary of Chippendale’s birth, numerous houses and museums across England are currently showcasing exhibits that fete the furniture prodigy. So after a few fun-filled days in hot, dry London, we hightailed it north to equally dry (but very sunny!) Yorkshire—aka, God’s Own Country—where Chippendale’s creations largest commissions happened to take in Chips’ far-flung legacy.
- Harewood House
- Temple Newsam House
- Nostell Priory
- Plus, a few other fabulous homes (where we weren’t allowed to take images!).
John and I not only loved experiencing such exceptional craftsmanship and the heaps of Chips’ Chinoiserie, but we were also fascinated by the stories of Chippendale’s business and its many ups and many downs.
Ah, the timeless grind of cash flow which we know only too well as a small business…
For more information about the myriad Chippendale exhibitions and events taking place across England, visit the Chippendale 300 website.
Insider tip: England’s amazing National Trust runs heaps and heaps of great old houses, and there’s an American branch of the Trust called the Royal Oak Foundation that’s well worth joining. Not only do you receive free admission to all National Trust properties as a Royal Oak member, but you get invites to Stateside lectures, events, and galas, too. If you visit the UK frequently, consider joining the Royal Oak.