The connections between architecture and furniture design are longstanding. Zaha Hadid, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Robert Adam are all known to have designed both buildings and furniture and supplied inspiration and patronage to furniture makers. At Reindeer Antiques we focus on Georgian furniture and it is clear, even to an untrained eye, that there are many similarities between this period of furniture design and the classical vocabulary used for buildings. It only seems right that the interior design of great houses should marry that of their framed envelope.

At Reindeer Antiques we have several pieces of furniture from the George I period (1714 – 1727), a time when great Palladian mansions such as Moor Park, Holkham, Chiswick and Houghton were built. These Kentian houses were designed like classical temples and their interiors were similarly grand. Gilded furniture incorporated architectural motifs which were theatrical and flamboyant. Side-tables and console tables had Italian marble tops and were gilt decorated with friezes worked with Vitruvian-scroll moulding. Heads of gods, sphinx, eagles, dolphins, satyrs and nymphs could be used in equal measure on both buildings and furniture. On display we presently have a pair of beautifully carved George I period giltwood wall brackets supported by Greek styled female masks. Their design bears a strong resemblance to the female masks carved on the entablature of the marble hall at Raynham Hall, Norfolk by William Kent.

Giltwood wall brackets

There were other items which clearly illustrate the influence of architecture on furniture design. Term stands, for example, were an essential accessory for any interior designed in the neo Palladian style. A term was an architectural device used as a fixed ornament and conceived as fixtures as part of the interior scheme. They recalled the classical world, which was highly sought after by patrons on return from their Grand Tour. Use of classical forms implied an approved philosophy and this was best represented by use of columns, which were referred to as the classical orders. At Reindeer Antiques we have a set of four Solomonic Columns which date from 1750. They are also called barley-sugar columns, and are characterized by a twisting corkscrew-like column shaft. This shape was particularly popular in Baroque architecture and in the late seventeenth century was frequently used for the legs of furniture. The four columns at Reindeer were most likely part of a piece of furniture but there is no indication what this might be. The columns recall the set of columns that Constantine the Great brought to Rome in the 4th century for reuse at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  One can just imagine why such fantastically shaped columns may have been used especially by a patron who may have recently returned from their Grand Tour in Italy.

Set of Solomonic Columns

As with classical architecture, proportion in furniture was of great importance. It was only right that furniture designed for a classical house should have similar proportions. There was no better exponent of this philosophy than Thomas Chippendale (1718 – 1779) whose designs were enthusiastically received by Georgian society. His publication of The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director (1754) is prefixed by an explanation of the rules for the drawing of the five Orders of Architecture, being: ‘Tuscan, Dorick, Ionick, Corinthian, and Composite’ and further rules to draw in perspective. He considered that furniture design should be improved by architectural ornamentation and that of all the arts, cabinet-making was most capable of receiving assistance from it.

At Reindeer Antiques, the architectural soul of Chippendale design can be clearly seen in a George III Chippendale period mahogany bookcase we have on display. This is one of my favourite pieces at Reindeer Antiques and is displayed alongside a set of eight chairs of the same period. The bookcase is constructed like a column with a base, shaft, capital and entablature formed of architrave, frieze and cornice. Note the architectural terminology. It has a swan neck pediment where the raking cornice is in the form of two S-shaped brackets inspired by Mannerist architects such as Michelangelo (Porta Pia, Rome, 1561-65). But why is this piece of furniture is so pleasing to the eye? I believe the answer is proportion, as the measurements tell of a design that was clearly based upon the human body and the classical scale of architecture.

Chippendale period bookcase



October 23, 2017 — Peter Alexander