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Thomas Hope

Importing the East.... West - Fine Regency Furniture Designs

Born in Amsterdam, in 1737, to a wealthy Scottish family, Thomas Hope was given every opportunity to learn about the arts and design and traveled extensively bringing great design ideas home.  Hope was restless, working as a Merchant banker, author, philosopher, collector and interior designer.  After all of his great success, he was best known for his 1819 novel “Anastasius”.  Of course my favorite Hope fact is unrelated to his furniture designs... his family at one time owned "Le bleu de France", better known as the Hope Diamond.

At an early age he devoted himself and his money to the study of architecture in ancient civilizations.  From 1787 until 1797, he traveled through Europe and the Near East extensively, with a particular interest in the Ottoman Empire.  He brought back with him extraordinary treasures for his families collections.

Establishing himself in London, Hope became well known as a scholarly collector of art, an interior designer and a great patron of artists and craftsmen. After completing his home, (Dutchess Street, Cavendish Square) he published his new designs in a book “Household Furniture and Interior Decoration” in 1807. The book helped to establish him as one of the leading designers of his time and the book‘s illustrations helped establish and further refine “English Empire” or what is now known as the Regency Period of design.

Common elements in furniture from the Regency Period are slender elegant lines, less marquetry and more use of elegantly striking woods, such as Rosewood and Calamander, in addition to the still popular Mahogany. Hopes influence can best be noted in common embellishments of Egyptian motifs. For example, carved elements like Lion Heads and mythical Griffons and gilded bronze mounts of Sphinx.

I have posted various examples of his influential designs and I am proud to offer a very fine and rare pair of Regency Arm Chairs similar to ones in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.


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Gillows of Lancaster

Importing and Exporting High Quality for Centuries

Robert Gillows, born in 1704, together with his children, built one of the largest furniture manufacturing empires in history, which lasted well over two centuries.  He became the first importer of fine exotic woods to England and his firm has been credited with many innovations, such as, various billiards tables and the extension dining table.  

Gillows began work as an apprentice joiner in 1718 and in 1728 began a partnership with another cabinet maker George Haresnape.  Robert Gillows had several sons. However, Richard and Robert, were the two who joined him in business and helped build the company and expand to showrooms in London.

The Gillows firm chose to manufacture outside of London in Lancaster. Allegedly, because Robert Gillows’ father was imprisoned there for his part during the Jacobite rebellion and he simply wanted to be close.

Part of their success came from trade with the West Indies. This came about by his marriage in 1730. Roberts’ wife’s family had significant trade relations and connections within the West Indies. Within a short while, Gillows began chartering ships importing mahogany and other exotic woods while exporting furniture that he made. The firm was the primary importer of fine woods for the region and enjoyed great success.

Gillows of Lancaster supplied high quality furniture to the middle and upper class as well as the uber wealthy. They produced a substantial amount of furniture for museums, presidents and luxury liners as well as British Royalty. They furnished buildings all over the world, from Russia, to Australia and the United States.

Gillows was well known for high quality, great woods, simple lines and an extensive offering. In addition to working with solid woods, they made veneered and painted furniture as well and often used japanning to imitate inlays.

Having manufactured furniture for so long, from the 1730’s through the 20th century, they covered designs of George I, Queen Ann, George II, George III, Regency and William IV. They endured and outlasted the more famous makers, such as Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton.

There are many museums throughout the world showcasing Gillows work and we are delighted to hold various items, attributed to Gillows, in our inventory.


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Charles Topino

Master Cabinet Maker

Charles Topino, ‘Maître-Ebéniste’  and Deputy of his guild, was a highly skilled craftsman celebrated among French 18th century cabinet makers.  His work is perhaps the most recognizable as he often displayed desirable far east influences in his marquetry and lacquered pieces.  Unfortunately, there is very little information about Charles Topino, as he apparently kept very poor records.  He produced works in the Louis XV style, Transitional and Louis XVI style.

He developed a great reputation both in Paris and abroad and began to work with other well known and well established cabinet makers, such as, Delorme, Boudin and Migeon. While Topino was held in high regard as a master cabinet maker, he was not considered a good business man and was in poor financial position. In a letter to his brother after he was nominated as Deputy, he stated “...how much honor and how little profit.”

Topino was born in Paris in 1742, became a Maître-Ebéniste in 1773 and died broke in 1803. Indicative of his financial woes, without notice, he moved out of his showroom/workshop in Paris in 1770 and forgot to tell his landlord. Once the Revolution came, he filed for bankruptcy in 1789 and was never heard from again.

He manufactured few pieces of furniture and preferred to embellish those of other cabinet makers. His specialty was fine inlays, typically of Chinese influence. Chinese figures, trophies, still lifes as well as floral garlands were common decorations. These decorations can be seen on various known pieces of his in museums such as the Decorative Arts Museum, Paris, France. In addition, he sold his marquetry inlays to others to use, which explains his common elements on so many 18th century pieces.

I have posted various examples of Charles Topino’s magnificent craftsmanship and I am pleased to offer a magnificent Louis XVI Marble Top Console Table from his workshop. This table shows elaborate inlays of floral garlands and is indicative of his work.


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Thomas Chippendale

The 18th centuries most celebrated craftsman

Thomas Chippendale is the world’s most recognizable cabinet maker of all time. While there are many celebrated cabinet and furniture makers throughout history, none have reached the success or obtained the fame that Thomas Chippendale has received. You don’t have to know much about 18th century furniture to have heard of him and in fact, Chippendale was the first name ever used to describe a style of furniture other than a monarch, such as George I or Queen Anne.

Thomas Chippendale was born in 1718 in Otley, England 200 miles north of London. His father, Thomas Chippendale I, was also well known in the trade of timber and wood working and no doubt provided his son with extensive knowledge of his craft. He moved to London, and married his first wife, Catherine Redshaw, around the age of 30. It wasn’t until 1754, at the age of 36, that he published the first edition of “The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director”.

This book, intended to be a reference or trade catalog for his clients, evolved into a reference for others and a distinction of the finest furniture designs of the 18th century. Although catalogs have been published previously, none were so specific to furniture and none were by working cabinet makers. “We can assume that the greater number of designs were new… (Chippendale) turned his back on the dying fashions of the early Georgian style, … lions’ masks, human heads.. and so on. But for the most part he set out to lead the way with suggestions of the French rococo style, and adopted the Gothic and Chinese Fashions...”

While Chippendale was a major influence, he too was known to have been influenced by other talented craftsman. For example, Juste-Aurele Meissonier, a brilliant and well known French designer specializing mainly in the rococo style, had influenced much of Chippendale’s elaborate rococo designs.

Chippendale’s business continued to expand as he rented three houses in St. Martin’s Lane, he took on a partner, James Rannie and after his death Thomas Haig, and had numerous craftsman working for him executing his commissions. He than published a second edition of the ‘Director’ in 1755. In 1760, he was elected as a member of the Society of Arts and two years later released his 3rd and final edition of his ‘Director’.

Concrete attribution to Thomas Chippendale is virtually impossible. While there were many imitators of his published designs, even when a piece can be attributed directly to his workshop, we can’t conclude that he personally worked on it.

Chippendale’s furniture designs cover a wide variety of styles. From the common mahogany more plain George III style, to his elaborate rococo designs, taken from the French Louis XV style, to his incorporating Gothic and Chinoiserie motifs and carving. Than another transition, starting around the 1760’s, as he started extensive work with famed designer Robert Adam, he began executing many pieces in the Neo Classic “Adam” style.

His first wife died in 1772 and was remarried in 1777 to Elizabeth Davis. Thomas Chippendale had fathered 11 children. He was known as a workaholic and was not healthy. He died in 1779, “of consumption”. His son Thomas Chippendale III continued the business, together with Thomas Haig, until his death in 1822.

We are delighted to offer several pieces from our current inventory from the 18th century in the Chippendale style. We are currently offering a fine pair of Chippendale mahogany carved and over upholstered Gainsborough arm chairs. These chairs have Chinese blind fret carved arms and supports, a pierced stretcher with gothic motif and stuffed and arched back, very typical of the Chippendale workshop.


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The First Transformers - The Metamorphic Arm Chair

The Metamorphic Arm Chair, along with other metamorphic furniture, enjoyed a brief time in history when it was en vogue and all the rage. Metamorphic library steps were designed for private libraries of the wealthy aristocracy and the Bourgeoisie whose book collections would climb the high walls filling tall bookcases.

Although these amusing metamorphic designs began in the mid to late 18th century, it was not until the Regency period around 1810 that the firm of Morgan and Sanders claimed a patent and began to manufacture them. Thomas Morgan and Joseph Sanders, among other fine English cabinet makers took some queues from a select few famous French master cabinet makers, such as Jean-Francois Oeben, Jean-Henri Riesener and especially David Roentgen. These three were among the leading cabinet makers working for the Royal courts having introduced many creative and innovative metamorphic and mechanical furniture.

Although little has been documented about the Metamorphic Library Chair, most references can be based on two sketches. One by Rudolf Ackermann in 1811, which illustrates Morgan and Sanders’ chair, the second, by Gillows in 1834, see images below. With very little documentation about these items it is often difficult to provide a true claim as to the maker.

Rudolph Ackermann, a German immigrant living in London, published his ‘Repository’ from 1809 through 1828. “The Repository ‘devoted space to all things fashionable and... included hand - coloured plates of furniture, drapery and interiors’. The ‘Repository’ was the first interior design and fashion periodical published and was an avenue for the middle class to view and access what was already fashionable within nobility.

It was ‘convenient’ for Morgan and Sanders to occupy work rooms on the street near Rudolph Ackermann. They advertised in almost every issue and benefitted greatly from its exposure. In the July 1811 addition of the ‘Repository’, the Metamorphic chair was described as follows: “This ingenious piece of furniture is manufactured at Messrs. Morgan and Saunders’s, Catherine - St. Strand”. (Their typo, not mine) Having the drawings published for their Metamorphic arm chair was helpful to its success as well as for their success with other convertible furnishings.

Much can be said as to whether or not this chair was practical or just an amusing novelty. When these chairs are opened to use the steps, you couldn’t climb very high and probably couldn’t reach the higher shelves. Meanwhile, reaching out for a book while standing on the top would be quite precarious. Never the less, these designs were very successful and Morgan and Sanders took credit for their designs and benefitted from their popularity.

The Neo Classic design of this Regency Arm Chair, also known as the Trafalgar Chair, became popular with its rounded tablet back and reeded sabre legs. Most of these chairs were solid mahogany, as it was becoming more common throughout the Regency period.

The Regency Metamorphic Arm Chair is a wonderful example of innovation from this period in history. We are delighted to offer one of these chairs, that we in fact attribute to Morgan and Sanders. The beautifully carved tablet splat and the well executed reeding throughout our chair identifies Morgan and Sanders as its maker.


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