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William Kent Furniture & Biography


William Kent was a furniture and interior designer, architect, and English garden landscaper of the early 18th century in the early Georgian era.

Kent Design for Chimney Piece
Kent Design for Chimney Piece

Short Biography:
William Kent was born in 1685 in Yorkshire and in early years made rather unsuccessful attempts at portrait painting. In a search for inspiration he spent ten years, 1710-1719, in Italy and there became influenced by the High Renaissance ideas of the architect Andrea Palladio.

Upon returning to England Kent was taken under the wing of Lord Burlington, a fashionable society man who Kent thereafter spent much of his time with. Lord Burlington, "the Apollo of the Arts, found a proper priest in the person of William Kent" as Horace Walpole says.

Great Dining Room at Houghton Hall
Great Dining Room at Houghton Hall

Burlington encouraged Kent to become an architect and garden landscaper and also to design furniture suitable for the Palladian style houses that were the fashion among the very wealthy of early eighteenth century England including one of their early collaborations, Chiswick Villa.

Kent Side Table
Kent Side Table

As a result of Burlington's standing and his own ability William Kent gained much work including the mural decorations at Kensington Palace, the interiors at Houghton House, and the country residence of Sir Horace Walpole. He became a much sought after designer, as Horace Walpole dryly observes:

....his oracle was so much consulted by all who affected taste, that nothing was thought complete without his assistance. He was not only consulted for furniture, as frames of pictures, glasses, tables, chairs, etc., but for plate, for a barge, for a cradle. And so impetuous was fashion, that two great ladies prevailed on him to make designs for their birthday gowns. The one he dressed in a petticoat decorated with columns of the five orders; the other like a bronze, in a copper coloured satin, with ornaments of gold.

Furniture designed by Kent that survives includes some gilt chairs with Genovese silk covering and a state bed with shell headboard at Walpole's home. Made originally for Chiswick Villa but now at Chatsworth House is a library desk with gilt owls (there are unfortunately no pictures of the desk at the Chatsworth site).

Baroque Mirror
Baroque Mirror with
double shell cresting.

In his furniture making Kent used mahogany to full advantage and was one of the first to see its potential. He employed the cabinet makers Benjamin Goodison and John Boson to do much of the construction work.

The near-final word can be left to an observer of Kent's work at Houghton House:

"the finishing of the inside is, I think, a pattern for all great houses that may hereafter be built"

William Kent died in 1748 but his influence on furniture design and architecture went on for some time in the works of other designers.

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