What Is In a Name
Next to Chippendale, Sheraton is probably the most famous name in late 18th-cenury English furniture, and many ‘Sheraton' pieces are for sale at high prices in the world's antique emporiums today. Yet not a single piece of furniture made by Thomas Sheraton himself has ever been discovered. Indeed, there is no evidence that he ever had a workshop of his own.
I love his designs because it is useful and elegant, at the same time.
Sheraton's hallmarks were a fragile elegance - elaborate inlaid decoration and slender tapering legs - and adaptability, with many of his designs call upon to serve more than one purpose. At a time when a rapid increase in population let to a shortage of living space - particularly in the cities - affecting rich and poor alike, there was a ready market for tables that converted into library steps or doubled up as writing desks, cleverly revealing hidden shelves, drawers and pigeonhole at the turn of a key.
Sheraton's enormous influence on English furniture derived from his many design books, but especially from the Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing-Book, published between 1791 and 1794. In it he drew together numerous furniture designs in what he called ‘the newest and most elegant style' No one knows how many of these were his own ideas, but they certainly set the design trend for the period.
Some of Sheraton's designs were considered over refined and effeminate by his contemporaries, however, and few existing pieces of furniture follow his designs exactly. The label ‘Sheraton' in an antique auction merely designates an approximate style and period. Sheraton himself died in poverty in 1806 and would no doubt have been astonished by his posthumous fame.