18th Century Furniture

Explore the refined splendour of furniture in Georgian Ireland.

Increasing trade and economic development, together with an element of political independence, brought considerable wealth to the landed aristocracy and merchant classes in 18th century Ireland.

The people of this country don’t seem solicitous of having good dwellings or more furniture than is absolutely necessary.

                                           - Mary Granville (1700-1788), writer

chairTowns and cities benefited from the widening of prominent streets. Elegant Georgian houses appeared in urban and rural settings and their nouveau riche owners patronised skilled craftsmen.

In furniture, mahogany from the West Indies were the preferred wood, although walnut was still used. The designs of Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), George Hepplewhite (1727-1786), and Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806) dramatically influenced furniture design.

A distinctive Irish style developed characterized by cabriole legs and ball and claw feet. Seats narrowed towards the back resulting in a round form. Popular carved motifs included an eagle’s head, birds, rosettes, and scalloped shells. Due to increased trade links with the Far East there was a rise in the popularity of Chinese decorative work, Japanese lacquer and Japanned furniture.

From the middle to the end of the century satinwood and other costly veneers were used. Neo-classical styles flourished and painted decoration and delicate mouldings were popular. Chair backs were made in a variety of shapes including oval, heart and shield. Their general design became simplified with tapered or fluted legs.

18th century chair

18th Century Dining Room

I have not seen less than fourteen dishes of meat for dinner, and seven for supper during my peregrinations.

                                - Mary Granville (1700-1788), Writer

The discovery of different foods and spices, new recipes and the variety of cookery books heightened the pleasures of 18th century dining. Increased importation of glass, porcelain and silverware resulted in large and elaborate dining services. New serving dishes and centerpieces embellished the table. Tableware spoke volumes about the host's standing in society while dining was governed by strict social rules and occasions.

According to the formal “French method” of serving, different dishes were simultaneously placed on the table in prescribed locations. Having sampled a dish, a diner would pass the plate onto their neighbour. Employing a French cook was fashionable while menus could feature such delicacies as “lamb’s ear ragout, fricassée of frog, badger flambé.” Badger was relatively uncommon in 18th century cookbooks.

Some wealthy households employed a confectioner and a cook. Grander meals lasted many hours and ran to dozens of dishes with the first course consisting of soups, stews, vegetables, boiled fish and meats arranged around a centerpiece. As each course finished servants brought in the “remove dishes,” which introduced and created anticipation for the next course. The second course generally included exotic pies and other baked savories. Elaborate desserts were the crowning glory of the occasion.