Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Griffin Podiatrist/Woodworker Sure Looks Funny On Your Business Card

Carving the “Ball and Claw” leg.

Chippendale furniture is as dead as a Pharoah. It had quite a run. Thomas Chippendale was the fellow, 1718-1789, but he had a son named Thomas, too, who went into business with him, and went bankrupt. Welcome to the furniture business.

They were designers. They specified all the stuff in the rooms, and even the paint colors. More Ralph Lauren than Norm Abram. And the ball and claw foot is only a tiny portion of their furniture leitmotif, but it’s the thing most anyone can point to and utter: Chippendale.

I sat on Chippendale chairs, gone to seed, in my grandmother’s old apartment when I was a little kid. When the dirt poor end up with stuff, you’re near the end of the string. Next stop oblivion. Of course, right up to fairly recently, people still bought Chippendalish ensembles of furniture for the rooms they never went in in their big houses. The living room and the dining room in houses that no one ate in or lived in. Furniture museums, I called them back twenty years ago when I was still in the house business. The ladies of the houses were constantly asking what color to paint the rooms to entice anyone, including themselves, to enter them. I never did find that color. The husband wrote the check and went back in the family room where the TV was.

I have a copy of Chippendale’s Gentlemen’s and Cabinet Maker’s Director.  It’s around here somewhere. In a box. In a closet. I think. I guess. Never mind. I’ve got Hepplewhite’s book, and if you take out all the harewood inlay on everything it’s just farm furniture and everyone wants some of that.

Still. Look at how exuberant we used to be. We carved the feet of our chairs to resemble the feet of a mythical beast. Nowadays forty-year-old men and their doughy Slave Leias dress up like mythical creatures and go to conventions, where they sit in plastic chairs.

You can read the Gentlemen’s and Cabinet Maker’s Director here, if you  think you’re going to live to be a thousand and have time to spare.

8 Responses

  1. As a full time woodworker who sometimes carves, I was intrigued by your – wait, what's this – doughy Slave Leias?

    Never mind…

  2. What a pleasure to watch. Those feet – and a whole lot else – are like the grace notes in an orchestral score. You could get along without them, but who'd want to?

  3. I inherited two mahogany Chippendale open armchairs from a great aunt some thirty years ago. They have a Cupid's bow top rail, double scroll ribband back, curved arm rails finishing with an extended scroll and cabriole legs with ball & claw feet.

    The two armchairs and a lowboy were given to her in 1912 as a wedding gift by an aunt. As her family is from Albany, the chairs were most likely made in NY, prolly in the late 19th century, but there aren't any identifying marks, so we can't trace them to a particular maker/shop. The broad seats are wonderfully comfortable and we use them every morning for breakfast. I'm leaving them to a niece as well.

  4. I have made a number of Chippendale/Queen Ann pieces — lowbow, blockfront chest, secretary, among others, from kits (I don't do table saws any longer, as I am running out of uninjured hands…)

    They are, to my eyes, extraordinarily graceful pieces, with perfect proportions and beautiful detailing, the ball and claw foot one among many (drawer front shells another favorite).

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