Chippendale Furniture

Dumfries House Estate

A room-by-room guide to Dumfries House's unrivalled collection of Thomas Chippendale furniture.

Thomas Chippendale
Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) was Britain's most famous and influential furniture maker. Born in Yorkshire, Chippendale went on to make furniture for some of the most powerful and influential people of his day - including the 5th Earl of Dumfries, who handpicked items from Chippendale's London workshop to furnish Dumfries House.

Thomas Chippendale published a book of his designs in 1754, titled The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director.

Subsequent editions were published in 1755 and 1762, and each provides an elaborate brochure of Chippendale's designs and product range.

The Chippendale Society celebrated the 300th anniversary of Thomas Chippendale's birth in 2018.

Take a look around Dumfries House's unrivalled collection of Chippendale furniture, to admire the finery and elegance of his craftsmanship.

As you explore these exquisite items, it's worth noting that the collection would have been broken up entirely and sold off, piece by piece, at auction if The Prince had not stepped in to save it for the nation.

In the Family Parlour
Thomas Chippendale’s sinuously carved elbow chairs and card tables capture such movement that some say it appears as if they could walk across the room. The upturned scroll feet and ornamental rails of the mahogany card tables, with original timber patina (polish), are exceptional. The table-tops are lined with the original green baize, and open with two-legged concertina action. The great rarity of these table designs is underlined by the fact that none actually appear in any of the three editions of Chippendale’s Director.

“The Elbow Chairs for me are the outstanding highlight of the collection," says Alex Macdonald, Head Guide at Dumfries House.

"They say everything you need to know about Chippendale. There’s a tangible beauty and a sense of taste and elegance. With sinuous, flowing curves and scrolls, fine carving and quality wood – this is Chippendale at its refined best.

Of course, we aren’t allowed to sit on them but I could happily sit opposite one and enjoy the grace and rhythm of the form. I have the privilege of seeing them almost daily and never tire of them. They transcend function and become works of art.”

This is a late George II Giltwood Pier Glass, designed and made by Thomas Chippendale. It was originally painted white and cost £36.15 in 1759.

The decoration reflected the George II fashion for serpentined garden architecture, combining both Chinese and Roman elements. The gilding was added in the 19th Century.

“I love the Thomas Chippendale Twin Drop-Leaf Breakfast/Supper Table in the Family Parlour. It epitomises Thomas Chippendale’s design skill," says Senior Guide Roger Read.

"His forward-thinking meant that he used wirework around the food compartment and always gets a laugh from the public when respectfully described as the ‘anti-dog’ device!”

The 18th-century handmade festoon curtains are weighted with lead ‘plumbits’ (as Chippendale called the weights) sewn into the bottom edges of the curtains.

The restored handmade tassels seen here were copied from the 18th century originals by Chippendale that are currently exhibited in the Blue Drawing Room.

In the Pink Dining Room
These Chippendale giltwood mirrored girandoles - ornamental branched candlesticks - were designed to embellish the chimneypiece wall and flank the overmantel portrait of the 5th Earl. 

The pattern for this piece appeared in the 3rd edition of Chippendale's Director.

It is topped by an ornate Ho-Ho bird - a mythical Japanese phoenix - and features a gothic column and balcony, on which a Chinese figure is perched.

The pattern for this piece appeared in the 3rd edition of Chippendale's Director.

It is topped by an ornate Ho-Ho bird - a mythical Japanese phoenix, and features a gothic column and balcony, on which a Chinese figure is perched.

In The Earl's Study
Centre stage in what was The Earl's Study is this handsome mahogany Chippendale writing desk, supplied in 1759 for £22. This featured the latest in design and finishing, was topped with the best leather.

The desk came complete with useful gadgets built in - such as an extendable writing surface for standing use, and many secret compartments for private possessions and paperwork.

On the desk you can also see the third edition (1762) of Chippendale’s Director.

Against the wall stands a Chippendale-style mahogany bookcase – not made by Chippendale himself. It is believed to be the work of Alexander Peter, using a Chippendale design.

In the Blue Drawing Room
The vibrant Blue Drawing Room features these Damask Silk Chippendale Elbow Chairs, as well as a one of a kind Rosewood Chippendale bookcase.

The late George II breakfront bookcase, made from padouk rosewood and gilded limewood, epitomises Chippendale's style of the 1750s, which launched his career as the Shakespeare of English furniture.

At least three pairs of artisanal hands originally worked on the bookcase. “It’s the House’s most complex piece,” explains Curator Emeritus Charlotte Rostek, “both technically and in terms of materials used and the various skills applied: glazing, carving, in-laying, joinery…”

The bookcase originally cost just over £47, and is the only one of its kind. It was probably a stock item in Chippendale’s workshop that the Earl took a shine to.

In 2007, when Dumfries House and its contents were put up for auction, Christie’s valued it at between £2 million and £4 million, but received a glut of preliminary enquiries.

It is now estimated that, had the auction gone ahead, it would have fetched around £20 million.

In the Family Bedroom
The luxurious Chippendale four poster bed makes an impressive centrepiece in the Family Bedroom. It was also by far the most expensive piece commissioned by the 5th Earl of Dumfries. The Family Bedroom is a true statement of Lord Dumfries’ wealth, taste and social standing, and a sign of his desire to attract a new spouse after the death of his wife in 1755.

The bed has been painstakingly restored to its former glory, having been altered once in 1868 by the 3rd Marquess of Bute.

The original design, as shown in Chippendale’s Director, includes an intricately carved mahogany frame, covered in 130 yards of the finest damask silk from Genoa.

The three tier mattress has a horse hair base, and wool middle, with the finest Danzig feathers as the soft top layer.

A team painstakingly recreated the covered silk effect of the carved wood dome canopy and headboard, as stipulated in the original design.

This expensive alternative to painted wood involves stretching and carefully working silk into every corner of the intricately carved pinewood structure, which is then glued securely in place.

After two years of hard work, spearheaded by The Great Steward of Scotland's Dumfries House Trust (which is now part of The Prince's Foundation), this splendid and unique bed can now be seen as it would have first appeared when it arrived in Ayrshire in 1759.

“My favourite piece of Chippendale furniture in the house is the Best Bed. I love the craftsmanship, especially the beautifully fluted pillars wrapped with palm fronds," says Gail Gilchrist, Senior Guide at Dumfries House.

"It is a temple of ‘armour’ with the exquisitely carved shell of Venus in the cornice. It exudes both femininity and strength. The bed was restored in 2010 after a three-month period. It encompasses the craftsmanship of the past and the present."

Also in the Family Bedroom is Chippendale’s large and ornately carved chimney overmantle cost £17 at the time.

It is gilt in burnished gold, with carpet-pile panel and mirrored glass.

It was Chippendale's first collaborative work with Thomas Moore of Moorfields, who provided the rare inset English knotted-pile carpet panel (known as Savonnerie).

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