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Sheraton had a much more difficult life than his prosperous rivals, Chippendale and Heppelwhite. He had no sales ability, so he had to become a designer of furniture rather than a manufacturer. He was also a drawing teacher, a preacher, and a publisher of religious tracts. He was shy and self-effacing, but he hoped to be able to give the world the benefit of his talent. Doubtless he did not dream of the important place he would take in the history of English furniture, as his rather short life was spent in poverty and misery.
Sheraton used mahogany and satinwood, with beech and pine as a foundation for veneer or painting. He decorated with inlay and veneer principally, and some painting, gilding, lacquering, reeding, fluting, turning, and carving. Sheraton preferred simplicity, so his decorative motifs were unobtrusive. He used inconspicuous swags of flowers, drapery, urns, lyres, shells, husks, and cornucopias.
Sheraton's furniture was slender and rather small in scale. He preferred straight lines and placed the emphasis on the verticals. His furniture had no stretchers, but fine craftsmanship made it durable. It usually had straight, square, tapering legs, although sometimes they were round, and reeded or fluted.
His secretary bookcases with straight tops, having glass doors above and panels below, have outstanding beauty. Sheraton's tall secretaries with many small drawers behind cylindrical fronts were also very well designed. Tambour, which is split reed glued on cloth, was used on these and also on desks. His sideboards, famous for their simplicity, grace, and strength, were usually made with serpentine fronts. The tops of the sideboards were often finished with a small brass railing or gallery at the back. Chests of drawers, desks, commodes, cabinets, wardrobes, and highboys were also made well by Sheraton.
Undraped beds were just coming into fashion, so Sheraton beds were sometimes built without any top framing, although they usually had simple testers on very slender posts. His chairbacks varied in design, but nearly all had a broken or slightly curved top line. The central splat usually rested on a cross piece a little above the seat, and was decorated with a lyre, an urn, or several narrow slats. Often the front legs continued upward to make arm supports. Caned chairs and settees were common and were made more comfortable by cushions. Upholstered sofas had straight backs and seat rails. Sheraton tables were of many varieties, such as extension tables with extra leaves, cumulative tables, Pembroke dressing tables, game tables, and sewing and writing tables.
The textiles used were finely woven horsehair, brocades, damasks, printed linens, cottons, and others. The colors were restricted only in value, which was delicate or medium.
It should be stated here that although Heppelwhite and Sheraton published design books, there were many other cabinet makers in England who were almost as important as these two in developing the particular styles that they used.
Modern Use of the Sheraton Style. Sheraton furniture can be used in late Georgian or Federal homes with other eighteenthcentury furniture. It combines well with all light, graceful furniture that is mainly rectangular in form. A little adaptation of the decoration, and some enlargement in scale, make this an excellent style for combination with light modern furniture.