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Hepplewhite - The Firm's Work

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



From the foregoing descriptions and extracts from " The Guide " we can form a very fair estimate of the basis upon which Mrs Hepplewhite and her colleagues continued to work after her husband's death. In order that the home connoisseur may identify genuine Hepplewhite designs, it is convenient to refer to some of the descriptions given in " The Guide." As already indicated, Hepplewhite furniture was mostly inlaid, beautifully figured woods being used as veneers, the edges being generally banded. It is noteworthy, too, that few mouldings are seen on the fronts of drawers. Reference has already been made to the beautiful chairs, so many of which can be identified by their oval and shield-shaped backs.

In some of the earlier examples of Hepplewhite's chairs brass nails were used, but of course they were very much lighter and smaller than those indicating an earlier period of brass nail ornament. Referring to the upholstery in the instructions given in " The Guide," it is said : " Mahogany chairs should have seats of horsehair, plain, striped, and chequered at pleasure." The dimensions of chairs are given as width, 20 in. ; depth of seat, 17 in. ; height of the seat, 17 in. ; the total height of the chair 37 in. It has already been pointed out that Hepplewhite's chairs are on the whole lower in the back than those of his predecessors. The high-backed winged chairs, restful to the head, were looked upon as draught-excluding seats, and were much patronised at that time. The Duchesse seat is explained in " The Guide " as " two French Burjier chairs of proper construction with a stool in the middle," forming a Duchesse 6 to 8 ft. long.

At the time when Hepplewhite's were making so much household furniture, the sideboard was undergoing a transformation. The sideboard-tables of Chippendale were no longer acceptable in that they did not provide sufficient accommodation, and the idea which had been put forward by Robert Adam suggested a more complete sideboard with cellarets and convenient cupboards. At the time we are referring to the sideboard was either serpentine or straight-fronted, and was supported on four or six taper legs, sometimes fluted. The pitch of the leg was a point to note, as the angle at which it was placed was carefully arranged to carry the weight. There was often a centre drawer, and two deep drawers or cellarets, the latter frequently designed to represent two dummy drawers. The left-hand compartment was lined with lead, and was frequently used for washing glasses, some-times a plug or water tap being added for the convenience of emptying. Some of the earlier Hepplewhite sideboards were made without drawers, being used in conjunction with pedestal cellarets, in some cases the centre drawer was supplemented by a short drawer at both ends. In all these designs there were inlaid ornaments. Describing these pieces of furniture, Hepplewhite says the long drawer in the middle is adapted for table linen, adding that their sideboards can be made to any size so as to fit in recesses. The portable or separate cellarets known as gardes de vin, made in mahogany, were hooped with brass, and divided into partitions to hold bottles of wine. They were, as already indicated, used in conjunction with sideboards without drawers.

Hepplewhite's bedroom furniture calls for special note, as some of the pieces are among the best examples of this cabinet-maker's work. The different kinds of bedsteads illustrated in " The Guide," and described therein, are referred to as Venetian, or waggon-top," " dome-top," " square dome-top," and " press-beds." The press-bed folded up, formed a wardrobe, and was regarded as a convenient bed for use in a small room, or in a room which was occasionally required for sleeping purposes. In addition to these ordinary household beds there were " field beds," both single and double headed, an adaptation of the French lit d tombeau.

Hepplewhite's designs for dressing-tables showed an advance, and many of them were ingeniously arranged for the convenience of their users, there being many little fittings and compartments for toilet requisites, perfumery, and trinkets. Some of Hepplewhite's shaving tables have been regarded by experts as remarkably convenient. The chests of drawers made by Hepplewhite include the useful tall - boys, which contained so many drawers. Some of these were really quite inconveniently high, many measuring 5 ft. 6 in. or more in height, so that the two top drawers, which were very shallow, were practically useless, as the only use to which they could be put was for small articles of dress ; and they were so high that ladies could not see inside without using a chair to stand upon. Perhaps the most satisfactory way of realising the beauty of Hepplewhite's designs, and the chief characteristics of his work, is to examine a good collection of furniture of that period, and to note carefully the chief points of interest in their construction.



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