Think of Georgian furniture and what do you picture? Chances are, it’s large, sturdy pieces combining simplicity of line with exquisite materials and unparalleled craftsmanship.
The Georgian era spans over 100 years, from the reign of George I (1714-1727) to George IV’s death in 1830. Within this timeframe, styles ranged radically from baroque to rococo, chinoiserie to neoclassical. Early Georgian (1714-1760) pieces can be difficult to distinguish from their Queen Anne (1702-1714) predecessors and, from 1720 or so, there was a preference for the heavyset William Kent style of monumental furnishings. But from the mid-1750s, what we generally recognise as classically Georgian furnishings began to emerge: the elegant, pared-back but not austere forms that have such a modern aesthetic.
The great designers of the period (Thomas Chippendale, brothers Robert and James Adam, George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton – see right), have left us a legacy of peerless furniture, the key examples of which, such as the pieces designed by Thomas Chippendale for Dumfries House, are valued in the millions of pounds. Indeed, an ornate Chippendale parcel-gilt cabinet made for Kenure Park, Co. Dublin, sold for a record hammer price of £2,400,000 at Christie’s in June 2008. The good news for buyers without a stately home budget is that these designs spawned thousands of lookalikes, many of which can be had today for three and four figure sums.
Ask any expert to describe Georgian furniture and ‘quality’ is always mentioned. ‘Georgian mahogany means quality and durability,’ agrees Charlie Thomas of Bonhams, Knightsbridge. ‘You can buy a 200-year-old table with the confidence it will probably last another two centuries.’ This legendary robustness is partly down to materials. Walnut was the timber of choice until about 1730, when imported mahogany, superior both in resistance to woodworm and resilience, began to be used for the majority of formal furniture. ‘People with young children in particular find Georgian mahogany is very forgiving. It’s pretty indestructible,’ says Charlie.
FIND OUT MORE
ANDERSON & GARLAND AUCTIONEERS Anderson House, Crispin Court, Newbiggin Lane, Westerhope, Newcastle upon Tyne.
BONHAMS Montpelier Street, London. 020 7393 3900.
BROWNRIGG INTERIORS 1 Pound Street, Petworth, West Sussex. 01798 344321.
BUSHWOOD ANTIQUES Stags End Equestrian Centre, Gaddesden Lane, Redbourn, near Hemel Hempstead. 01582 794700.
CRITERION AUCTIONS 53 Essex Road, Islington, London. 020 7359 5707.
ANTIQUES WORLD Unit 2, Deanfield Way, Link 59 Business Park, Clitheroe, Lancashire.
0845 241 5518.
S&S TIMMS ANTIQUES
PO Box 813, Ampthill, Bedfordshire. 01525 719300.
DUMFRIES HOUSE Cumnock, Ayrshire. 01290 425959.
MILLER’S LATE GEORGIAN TO EDWARDIAN FURNITURE BUYER’S GUIDE
(Miller’s Collectors Guides, 2003)
FEATURE: Katrina Burroughs
STYLING: Sara Emslie
PHOTOGRAPHS: Polly Eltes
GEORGIAN DESIGNERS – THE BIG NAMES (AND BIG MONEY)
The architect ROBERT ADAM (1728-1792) was famous for his neoclassical take on popular Palladian architecture. With his brother James (1732-1794), he remodelled many a country house and engaged cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale to produce their furniture designs.
THOMAS CHIPPENDALE (1718-1779) published his Gentleman and Cabinetmaker’s Director in 1754, including designs in styles from rococo to chinoiserie. The book was a hit with owners of great houses and collectors of furniture all over Europe. The trademark shield-backed chairs and camelback sofas by GEORGE HEPPLEWHITE (d1786) became popular in the last quarter of the 18th century.
THOMAS SHERATON (1751-1805) began publishing Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book and Repository in 1791. It’s thought unlikely he produced his own designs, but hundreds of English cabinetmakers subscribed to Sheraton’s books.