Antique Cabinet Making From 17th Century

mary styled chairs

Antique Cabinets Abound.

Dutch and Oriental influences abounded in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in antique Cabinetmaking in Europe and England. We must look at the William and Mary and Queen Anne periods (1689-1702 and 1702-1714).  This is when the Continental styles which had accompanied Charles II across the Channel were first absorbed by English craftsmen, and then grafted on to their own native ideas.

William and Queen Mary

Queen Mary’s Dutch husband, William of Orange, brought with him his own set of followers. Coupled with a steady stream of Huguenot immigrants, led to a strong Dutch influence. The inevitable results were changes in architectural and furniture styles, both of which enriched English culture.

17th Cent writing desk
Walnut Writing Bureau

This Walnut Writing Bureau has a sloping half front that opens to reveal pigeon-holes and drawer compartment. They were cut transversely across a small log or branch. In addition it had  a right-angled cut giving a roughly circular oyster, and an oblique cut an elliptical one.

The Dutch Influence

The Dutch had a passion for ceramics and so display antique cabinets for showing collections of jars, bowls, and dishes popular — Mary had several made to house her collection of Delft pottery and porcelain.

Generally, the antique cabinets were mounted on stands and the glazed doors were fitted with small oblong panes of glass mounted into wooden glazing bars. In later Georgian times such antique cabinets became more ornate, with swan-necked or broken architectural pediments and fluted columns or pilasters flanking the doors.

Daniel Marot Huguenot.

The chief furniture designer of the period was a Huguenot, Daniel Marot (1663-1752), who followed William to England and stayed until 1698. He had been the designer to Louis XIV of France, but was forced to flee to Holland to escape religious persecution.

Many of Huguenot’s drawings still exist; they are basically his personal interpretation of Louis XIV style — his chair designs were gracefully curvilinear. The backs with compound curves, the arms and stretchers boldly shaped, and the legs either turned with a distinctive motif like an inverted cup near the top. The flowing cabriolet leg had a hoof foot as seen below.

Huguenot’s forte was the use of draperies, and one of his most famous designs was the ‘Angel’ bed with a flounced tester (or canopy) suspended from the ceiling, thus dispensing with foot posts. The valance and the base were elaborately draped and the whole piece could be enclosed by a huge ‘case curtain’ which formed a protective covering for the more delicate and expensive fabrics beneath.


Marquetry, which had travelled from Italy through France to the Low Countries, was enthusiastically taken up by the Dutch. The national love of flowers led them to become specialists in floral marquetry and produce some of the finest specimens ever. Most known was Jan van Merkeren, who worked between 1690 and 1735. They were also expert in ‘seaweed’ or ‘arabesque’ marquetry which is made from intertwining, sinuous fronds of foliage, vaguely resembling seaweed.

Anitique walnut chair

Antique Wardrobe



mary styled chairswalnut dressing Table

With the reign of William and Mary marquetry furniture became the fashion. This was shown in the form of bandy-legged chairs, secrétaires or bureaus, long clock-cases, etc. Anything that afforded surfaces available for such decoration as seen in the above pictures was decorated this way. This art had not previously been practised in England. Specimens were procured by importation chiefly from Italy. The leaves and other figures composing the pattern were cut out of dyed woods, shading being given by means of hot sand. (Ref 1) George Etherington was a London maker of this work about the year 1665. (Ref 2) Many London antique cabinet-makers subsequently engaged in this manufacture, and a national style was developed.

Another style of decoration known as Boule (from its inventor André Charles Boule, born in 1642) shared with marquetry the favour of the public. This was a kind of veneered work usually composed of tortoiseshell and thin brass.

Sir William Chambers, the celebrated architect (1725-96), published a book of designs of Chinese furniture, dresses, &c., in 1757, and largely employed the best artists in wood-carving for the decoration of his interiors.

John Wilton

John Wilton, one of his protégés, was born in London in 1722, and studied abroad for many years, returning to England in 1757 with Sir William Chambers. He was employed in designing carriage and furniture decorations, and painted the royal state coach now in use.

Another fashion was the use of ‘oyster’ veneers made from laburnum, yew, walnut, and others. Oysters are thin slices of wood.

It was at this time that both East India Companies (British and Dutch), approached the peak of their activities. Their love-affair with all things Oriental, in both countries, developed. It lasted well into the 17th century. It began to dwindle about 1760. Its last belated manifestation’ was Pavilion, which begun in 1815 for Prince Regent.

There was a fascination with lacquer work, then called ‘japan’ or ‘lac’. Lacquered antique cabinets-on-stands had become status symbols. Such was the desire to have everything ‘japanned’ that ‘ready-to assemble’ panels were imported from China, often of poor qualify. Good lacquer needs time for its manufacture (up to a year is not too long).  Chinese merchants were so anxious to cash in on the boom that considerably less than perfect goods ‘were shipped. Imported lacquered screen were very popular.

Thomas Chippendale

Thomas Chippendale, the son and father of furniture makers, exercised the same trade in London in the latter half of the 18th century. He published in 1758-9 a book of designs of furniture of every kind. (Refer3) He used mahogany as a material instead of oak, and brought that wood into general use. His designs are distinguished for their fine architectural mouldings, and his workmanship is admirable.

Thomas’s was specially celebrated for his frames, which are in the French style, and cut with great freedom and delicacy. He also designed Chinese scenes in his gilt-work, following the taste introduced by Sir William Chambers. Another of his published works was entitled The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director, a collection of designs of household furniture; of this a third edition appeared in 1762.

The work of Thomas Sheraton, another antique cabinet-maker, is still in high repute for its admirable workmanship. The specimens of his work seem to resist the ravages of time, being made of wood well-seasoned and admirably put together. Sheraton was the author of a complete dictionary of his trade, (Refer 4) and of a antique Cabinetmaker’s Drawing-book(Refer5)

Mr. J. Hungerford Pollen, in his Ancient and Modern Furniture in the South Kensington Museum(Refer 6) says: ‘Only the most meagre notices are to be found of the artists to whom we owe the designs of modern furniture . . . of the furniture makers who attained such eminence during the last [18th] century very little is known.’

A principal reason for this is to be found in the fact that for a hundred and fifty years after the Renaissance furniture design was so closely associated with architecture that it almost ceased to exist as a separate art. The woodwork of rooms and the character of their furniture followed the style of architecture employed for the building. The ornamental chimney-pieces were designed by the architects themselves. They were fashioned by excellent artist workmen of whom no record has been preserved.


Dutch and Oriental influences made a significant contribution to furniture design before the era which come to what is called the  ‘Golden Age of Cabinetmaking’ in the 18th century. We looked at the William and Mary and Queen Anne periods (1689-1702 and 1702-1714), when the Continental styles which had accompanied Charles II across the Channel. The English craftsmen absorbed the new influences, and then grafted on to their own native ideas to form a grand style of wooden furniture.

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