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  • beth swade

WHEN DID UPHOLSTERY BECOME A THING?! The history of upholstered furniture, PART 2...


The next instalment of the History of Upholstered Furniture is hear!!! I know you have been waiting with baited breath! Personally I found things start to get really interesting and more familiar in this period, especially during the late 17th and early 18th century as edge rolls and stitching techniques that we use now are beginning to be developed to refine and improve the shape of upholstered furniture.



WILLIAM AND MARY (1689-1702)


Mary deposed her father James II with her husband William of Orange in 1688, it is referred to as the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and described as the last successful invasion of England. William and Mary had been living in the Netherlands.


They brought with them Dutch tastes and styles of furniture, as well as Daniel Marot. Daniel Marot (1661–1752) was a French born Dutch Architect. He worked as an engraver at an early age in France, in 1685 he left to settle in Holland where he took his French influence. He was employed by the Stadthouder who later became William III of England, he travelled to London in 1694 and was appointed as an architect and master of works. His baroque style had a big impact on the French and Dutch styling seen in William and Mary style furniture. He published a book called ‘The book of Designs ’in which he made detailed engravings of interiors and objects, and introduced much of the French Louis IV style to England and Holland.


‘He is a figure of cardinal importance as he was the first person to produce designs not just of architectural decoration but of furniture and upholstery as well’


After the great fire the popularity of rattan chairs continued in popularity, often with Squab cushions placed on top for extra comfort, as they were seen to be ‘safer’ and cleaner. The chair above in the middle is called a scrolled leg or horse bone chair, an English variant of a style that was becoming popular in Paris, the bright hand embroidered fabric would have been expensive and for a wealthy house. This shows how the styles from the rest of Europe begin to spread and influence one another.



QUEEN ANNE (1702-1714)


As some of the heavier details and frames of chairs began to be stripped away they became lighter and more able to move around a room. Drop-in seats became popular as they could easily be recovered and therefore change looks regularly, this to me seems to mean that people were beginning to like to have more flexibility in their home furnishings and enjoying being more able to make changes themselves. Loose covers and ‘case covers’ became popular to protect the more expensive upholstered piece so that it could then be uncovered when the best company arrived!


The drop in seat below is a good example of a cabriole leg, this developed and became a fashionable look within this era, it derives from the French word for ‘a goat to leap’. There is a lightness and animal like-ness to the shape, that curves out in a convex shape at the top and then curves into a concave shape as you get to the floor. You can also see shell shapes carved into the back splat and the top of the legs that was a fashionable detail during this period.



EARLY GEORGIAN (1714-1727)


1714 marked the Coronation of George 1 ‘A New Hanoverian Royal Family’ of German descent, after Anne died leaving no heir to the throne. This crowning of a new German King caused riots but under his rule there were no wars for 100 years. As cities grew so did extreme wealth and in contrast extreme poverty. The early Georgian period saw a continuation of the queen Anne style (lots of people refer to furniture as into this early Georgian period as Queen Anne still) but styles become richer, heavier and more gilded woods and lavish upholstery. Mahogany was beginning to be imported and gaining in popularity, and was a good alternative to walnut that was at this time in short supply due to a disease, lots of wood frames were also gilded for a luxe metallic finish.


William Kent (1685-1748) was a leading architect and designer of the early Georgian period. He studied in Italy (1709-1719) observing and learning from Italian masters paintings and etchings, and soaking up the architecture and style. When he returned to the UK he worked on many projects with Lord Burlington where they spread their love of Italian style creating heavy gilded furniture and interiors that some would call ‘Kentonian’. They created many extravagant houses for leading political figures who would enjoy ‘performance hosting’. The rise of architects becoming important within furniture design continues and develops into the next Georgian Era. The chairs would often been made in sets, the frame pictured above would have had others that sit next to it and closely resemble Kents engravings.




GEORGIAN (1727-1760)


The mid 18th Century is often cited as the “Golden Age of English Furniture”. It saw a rise in design workshops where cabinet makers worked alongside carpenters and upholsterers to develop designs and furniture. It also saw the beginning of companies being established that began to be seen as brands. The middle class were rising and wanted to start buying into the looks of more expensive furniture, the beginning of these brands made it more accessible and possible for them to do that. French Polishing became popular, giving the wood a finer more shiny finish and luxurious feel.


As the layers of the upholstered pieces become more refined, methods and best practises begin to develop, in the late 17th early 18th century it becomes more common to see hair and wool being used to add comfort and shape. Bridal ties would have started being used to keep the hair in place when its initially added to the chair, this would allow it to retain a better shape for longer.


As well as comfort the emerging architects and designers require more specific shapes and looks to the pieces they create, rather than the domed shapes that came before around 1750 upholsterers begin to refine stitching. They begin adding stuffing ties to squash down the hair and create more rectangular seats and backs. Edge rolls and the stitches that create them also become more important and allow the upholsterer to get more refined shapes.


One of the most famous being Chippendale, of Thomas Chippendale who set up their studio in 1733. One of the things that set them apart from others was they published a book of designs and documented the items of furniture, almost like a catalogue, after this other brands began to follow suit. The Ribband Chairs are said to be some of the Chippendales most distinctive chairs featuring elaborately carved wooden backs and carved ribbon details. Whilst their designs were highly decorative they always considered the body and the often featured lumbar support and the body's comfort. As the carpentry was so intricate the fabric upholstering seats was often plain to balance the design.




LATE GEORGIAN (1760-1810)


Upholstery styles began to become more refined as they began to experiment more with stitching the fibres in the chairs and edge rolls began to appear. This would allow the upholsterer to achieve a finer finish and sharper edge to their pieces. It would have also meant that the shapes of the chairs would have stayed in better condition and kept that shape for longer.


By the 1760s Chippendale was a well established brand and it continued to develop in a similar style. George Hepplewhite's brand began to grow in prominence during this period as well as Thomas Sheraton. These 3 men's companies were known as the big 3 of English furniture makers during the Georgian period, their styles were the main influence on other makers and therefore the look of the time.


Hepplewhites story is interesting in the fact that during his lifetime his elegant slender designs did not become famous until after his death. His widow Alice took over the company and published ‘Cabinet maker and Upholsterer's Guide’ 1788 featuring around 300 of his designs that were used as reference for generations and influenced many more designs. You can identify a Hepplewhite style chair by the intricate delicate splat piece in the centre back of the chair, often with straight and simple legs that begin to taper to the floor.


Thomas Sheratons has a different story, he trained as an apprentice cabinet maker before making his way to London in his late 30s to become a teacher and consultant of Architecture and Cabinet making. In 1791 he began publishing ‘The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterers Drawing book’ of which there were 4 volumes containing hundreds of designs, over 600 makers signed up to get these books and he became an immediately influential and important part of the style of this time. The interesting thing about Sheraton is that it's thought that he didn't have a workshop at this time and therefore none of these books of designers were actually made, but just designs or drawings that others then referenced. This again adds to the emergence of designers as separate entities to the cabinet makers and upholsterers.


Regency style was an important fashion that began in this period in both furniture, architecture and art. It took influences from all over the world, not just Europe but further afield like Egypt and China. Thomas Hope is a good example of an architect and designer that really developed and delved into the style. He was wealthy and had the luxury of both being well travelled and also a collector of objects. In 1799 he bought a house on Duchess street and decorated it completely in Regency style (which would later be named after the new king, and continued more into the next period), he recorded this in a book titled “Household Furniture and Interior Decoration” and also opened the house for tours to show off the style in the hope of ‘transforming British taste’ He believed that drawing inspiration from traditional Greek and Egyptian styling was the spirit of ‘Classical Purity’


The other men that need to be mentioned here are the Adams brothers, 3 Scottish men who also were doing something different to the Chippendale style with the elaborate carved details opting for more neoclassical look and straighter lines, as Thomas Hope they were hugely influenced by “Greek style’. Robert Adam, one of the most well travelled brothers became ‘Architect to the King’ which gave him access to having great influence on the style of the wealthiest houses of the time.


The 1800s also saw the development of the Chaise Longue, although ‘long chairs’ can be traced back to as far as Egyptian times more ornate Chaise Longue began being imported from France, for a luxurious daybed or place to rest.


Chesterfield sofas date back to the 1780s when the Fleming and Howland london upholstery business coined the name for deep buttoned sofas and chairs that became popular in wealthy homes. Originally the deep buttoned detail pulled stuffing and fibre in the chair to hold in place and was a practical detail to improve the wear and look of the chair, the deep buttoning has become synonymous with the name Chesterfield and people will refur to anything with this type of buttoning as a Chesterfield. The company Fleming and Howland still exist today and they have a special rules around what makes a true Chesterfield, including being made in the UK with many traditional materials and strict rules around size and depth of buttoning.


Hope you have found this interesting! I had a lovely day out in London recently at the Wallace Collection on Manchester Square where there are some amazing examples of Georgian chairs and furniture.


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