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George Hepplewhite, a London cabinetmaker, developed a style which found wide popularity. His influence was strongest from 1770 to 1790 and is still felt today.
After his death in 1786, his widow, Alice, continued his business and in 1788 she published a book of his furniture designs. The lightness and graceful elegance of his style were so well re ceived that there were several more editions published at later dates.
Hepplewhite's style is distinguished by the light, straight leg forms, the serpentine fronts, refined curves, excellent inlay work and shield-back chairs.
Hepplewhite's chairs were not very strong structurally, often being found broken by the passage of time. They displayed great originality, being most usually the shield back, but also made with interlacing hearts and oval backs. The upholstery was carried down over the frame all around and finished with ornamental upholstery tacks.
Spade feet were a favorite of Hepplewhite, usually terminating square tapered legs. Round tapered legs with reeding or spiraling as preferred by Sheraton, were also used. Hepplewhite's straight legs differed from the Chinese Chippendale in that Hepplewhite's were tapered toward the foot, giving a light graceful line to even large, heavy pieces. For chests of drawers Hepplewhite used the French bracket foot with its curving skirt.
Sideboards came into being during this time and are associated with the Hepplewhite style. They are among the loveliest of his furniture.
Preferring veneer and inlay to carving, Hepplewhite-style furniture shows much beautiful inlay. He chose classic motifs for his furniture; the designs particularly distinctive of this style are wheat eats, pendant husks, bellflowers, round and oval paterae, and the Prince of Wales feathers. The fact that the Prince of Wales was one of his patrons of course increased Hepplewhite's reputation as a fine craftsman.
Mahogany was the most used wood, and rosewood, satinwood, tulipwood and other rare woods were employed for inlays. Painting was another form of furniture adornment. Hepplewhite executed many commissions for the Adams Brothers (architects and furniture designers) and was in turn influenced by their designs, the free use of painting on furniture being one of their favorites.
Brasses for his furniture were round or oval.
Hepplewhite and Sheraton styles are very similar in many instances, in fact they used the same features so often that the styles are often difficult to tell apart. This is further complicated by the fact that what we consider to be Sheraton here in America is often called Hepplewhite in England, and vice versa.
Hepplewhite and Sheraton being contemporaries, their furniture and accessories shared the color preferences of their day.
Oriental rugs of small-scaled patterns were used as well as plain carpeting. Popular fabrics covered a wide range including silks, taffetas, velvets, brocades, chintzes, linens and cretonnes with bright, gay bird and flower patterns or such classic motifs as urns, swags, and flowers, all in small-scaled patterns. Festooning and French-style drapery were used for windows.
Muted, almost pastel colors were preferred along with formal arrangements. Gilt mirrors, Venetian glass, decorative porcelain such as Spode, Minton, Wedgwood, Sevres, are all characteristic of the period. Classic shapes predominated.