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Sir William Chambers

Sir William Chambers, R.A., an architect, who has left us Somerset House as a lasting monument of his talent, appears to have been the first to impart to the interior decoration of houses what was termed " the Chinese style," as the result of his visit to China, of which a notice was made in the Eastern furniture; and as he was considered an " oracle of taste " about this time, his influence was very powerful. Chair backs consequently have the peculiar irregular lattice work which is seen in the fretwork of Chinese and Japanese ornaments; and Pagodas, Chinamen and monsters occur in his design for cabinets. The overmantel which had hitherto been designed with some architectural pretension, now gave way to the larger mirrors which were introduced by the improved manufacture of plate glass; and the chimney piece became lower. During his travels in Italy, Chambers had found some Italian sculptors, and had brought them to England, to carve in marble his designs; they were generally of a free Italian character, with scrolls of foliage and figure ornaments: but being of stone instead of woodwork, they scarcely belong to our subject, save to indicate the change in fashion of the chimney piece, the vicissitudes of which we have already noticed. Chimney pieces were now no longer specially designed by architects, as part of the interior fittings, but were made and sold with the grates, to suit the taste of the purchaser, often quite irrespective of the rooms for which they were intended. It may be said that Dignity gave way to Elegance.

Robert Adam, having returned from his travels in France and Italy, had designed and built, in conjunction with his brother James, Aldelphi Terrace, about 1769, and subsequently Portland Place, and other streets and houses of a like character; the furniture being made under the direction of Robert, to suit the interiors. There is much interest attaching to No. 25, Portland Place, because this was the house built, decorated and furnished by Robert Adam for his own residence, and, fortunately, the chief reception rooms remain to show the style then in vogue. The brothers Adam introduced into England the application of composition ornaments to woodwork. Festoons of drapery, wreaths of flowers caught up with rams' heads, or of husks tied with a knot of riband, and oval paterœ to mark divisions in a frieze, or to emphasize a break in the design, are ornaments characteristic of what was termed the Adams style.

Robert Adam published between 1778 and 1822, in three magnificent volumes, " Works in Architecture." One of these was dedicated to King George III., to whom he was appointed Architect. Many of his designs for furniture were carried out by Gillows; there is a good collection of his original drawings in the Soane Museum, Lincoln's Inn Fields.

The decoration was generally in low relief, with fluted pilasters, and sometimes a rather stiff Renaissance ornament decorating the panel; the effect was neat and chaste, and a distinct change from the rococo style which had preceded it.

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