The mak­ing of a mas­ter fur­ni­ture de­signer

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Heritage -

erism. It is home to the Trust’s great­est col­lec­tion of Chip­pen­dale in­te­ri­ors and fur­ni­ture, as well as an ex­ten­sive ar­chive of cor­re­spon­dence be­tween him and his clients, the Winn fam­ily.

Chip­pen­dale cre­ated a world of in­te­ri­ors for the Winns at Nostell be­tween 1766 and 1785. It was com­posed not only of in­di­vid­ual pieces, such as a gen­tle­man’s ma­hogany writ­ing and shav­ing desk, and even a recog­nis­ably Chip­pen­dale high chair, but whole suites of rooms, most no­tably the state apart­ment, a se­ries of chi­nois­erie rooms which would have been the height of chic at the time.

“Row­land Winn was look­ing to en­hance the fam­ily sta­tus and his own po­lit­i­cal stand­ing, and climb the ech­e­lons of aris­toc­racy,” says McCor­mack. “He needed a house equal to his am­bi­tions.”

To cre­ate this vi­sion, Chip­pen­dale worked along­side Robert Adam, then a young, up-and-com­ing ar­chi­tect in the neo­clas­si­cal style. How an or­di­nary cabi­net maker came to be in such a po­si­tion has been the stuff of myth. But, says McCor­mack, it was some shrewd mar­ket­ing that es­tab­lished him as a name to hire.

He moved from York to Lon­don without money or in­flu­en­tial con­tacts in the 1740s, when it was the cen­tre of high-end de­sign and fash­ion, and later he pub­lished The Gen­tle­man and Cabi­net Maker’s Di­rec­tor.

“It was re­ally the first com­pre­hen- sive book of fur­ni­ture de­signs,” adds McCor­mack. “He dis­cov­ered that he could draw beau­ti­fully. In the days be­fore com­puter-aided de­sign, be­ing able to draw well was piv­otal to de­sign­ing beau­ti­ful things.”

Far from work­ing alone, Chip­pen­dale would have em­ployed be­tween 20 and 30 ar­ti­sans through his de­sign house, sub­con­tract­ing dif­fer­ent skills as and when he needed them. One of the key things he was try­ing to do was keep ahead of style and fash­ion, and he would have been able to pro­vide clients with any num­ber of items in dif­fer­ent aes­thet­ics; gothic, ro­coco, neo­clas­si­cal.

When Winn en­gaged the ser­vices of Chip­pen­dale he wasn’t sim­ply or­der­ing high-end fur­ni­ture (the li­brary desk cost £72, and a re­pro­duc­tion today would set you back £20,000). He was se­cur­ing the ser­vices of an in­te­rior de­signer, in­clud­ing sourc­ing items such as a chop­ping block for the kitchen and a man­gle. If Chip­pen­dale, who died in rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity in 1779, was not your clas­sic rags-to-riches suc­cess, then the rea­son is to be found at Nostell in the ar­chive of let­ters and bills.

“It is a soap opera with Chip­pen­dale over-promis­ing and un­der-de­liv­er­ing,” ex­plains McCor­mack. The com­pany “had a net­work of sub­con­trac­tors, and what we see is a com­plex mod­ern busi­ness model, which is bread and but­ter to us today, without any of the mod­ern telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and lo­gis­tics. Chip­pen­dale fell foul of that. He must have been knack­ered by the time he died, deal­ing with all these peo­ple”.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Winn and Chip­pen­dale soured, as the lat­ter pushed for pay­ment on bills and a fi­nan­cially over-stretched Winn be­came re­sent­ful. “We’re fairly con­fi­dent that Chip­pen­dale did not get paid for the ma­jor­ity of the goods and ser­vices that he pro­vided at the prop­erty,” says McCor­mack. It wasn’t a prob­lem for a gen­tle­man like Robert Adam, who had money be­hind him and could take the hit fi­nan­cially. But Chip­pen­dale, who had a mi­nor­ity fi­nan­cial stake in his own busi­ness, was de­pen­dent on fi­nance to run the com­pany. Times were chang­ing but so­cial mo­bil­ity re­mained in­flex­i­ble for men of Chip­pen­dale’s class. When Winn died in 1785, the whole project ground to a halt – bills un­paid.

It is thanks to the Vic­to­rian era and the Great Ex­hi­bi­tion of 1851 that in­ter­est in 18th cen­tury fur­ni­ture resur­faced. With mak­ers’ marks rare in fur­ni­ture of the time, the Vic­to­ri­ans fre­quently as­sumed that any de­cent bit of 18th cen­tury fur­ni­ture in that style was by Chip­pen­dale.

Au­then­tic­ity re­mains hotly con­tested today, which makes Nostell, with its ar­chive, so im­por­tant. But McCor­mack says Chip­pen­dale is about more than beau­ti­ful fur­ni­ture.

“It’s also about how dif­fer­ent a place from the con­ti­nent Bri­tain still is today. That con­sumer so­ci­ety, Chip­pen­dale rep­re­sents that,” he says.

Nostell Pri­ory, be­low; a green and gold lac­quer clothes press, above

Nostell Pri­ory’s cu­ra­tor, Si­mon McCor­mack; a gilt four poster bed, be­low

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