As historian Hannah Greig has noted, ‘Prestigious town houses demanded similarly prestigious furnishings, and their high-ranking occupants delighted in glittering adornment.’ Wealthy eighteenth-century customers had no need to leave their homes to furnish their grand houses with the most lavish of goods. Whilst shops offered satisfying browsing potential and inspiration for the insatiable home-furnisher, the wealthiest of clients, such as the Lascelles family at Harewood House and the Winns of Nostel Priory could afford to commission eminent craftsmen such as Chippendale to undertake large-scale furnishing projects for the houses, creating sumptuous interiors to a cohesive decorative scheme.

Viscount Fairfax was also able to use his wealth to shop precisely to his taste. He ordered a bespoke ‘large silver waiter’ from the London silversmith Frederick Kandler which cost the considerable sum of £100. The Viscount possibly felt a certain loyalty to Kandler on account of their shared Catholic faith and he clearly preferred the prestige of a London goldsmith over and above any of the many York-based retailers. However, this long-standing relationship did not stop the Visount from withholding payment in an attempt to secure a discount, something Kandler emphatically refused.

Objects were often designed to incorporate family crests; a process which simultaneously announced a person’s good taste and knowledge of the fashionable world alongside their familial heritage. To commission bespoke purchases from a tradesman who had been patronised by notable figures of the beau monde brought a certain cachet to a person wanting to move up in society. Greig details the correspondence of the Earl and Countess of Strafford when they are setting up a London house in the early-eighteenth century. Lady Strafford carefully researched the homes of the elite when she wanted new sconces (wall-mounted candlesticks). She wrote to her husband in 1712 that

I see Lady Portland yesterday who told me Lord Portland has some Sconces now made the handsomest she ever see & she will borrow won of them for me to show Mr Shales [the Straffords’ household steward].

Likewise, Lady Strafford had frames made for two jappaned cabinets ‘by the man who did them at Montagu House and at the Duke of Marlboroughs’. In this way, those ‘lower down’ in the elites and gentility were able to connect their own houses to the most notable in society.


Further reading:

Hannah GreigThe Beau Monde, Oxford University Press, 2013.