The neat and Plain Style in the Chesapeake
A style known as neat and plain gained favor in some quarters of British society late in the second quarter of the eighteenth century. Developed partly in response to the excesses of the French rococo style, the neat and plain fashion emphasized the same use of clean lines, minimal ornamentation, and classical proportions that characterized much British architecture. Contemporary dictionary references defined neat and plain as “free from what is unbecoming, inappropriate, or tawdry; of simple elegance; tasteful and refined.”

The British-oriented Chesapeake gentry readily adopted this new style. Their orders repeatedly requested furniture that was “plain but neat.” In the 1770s, Virginia planter Robert Beverley ordered a great deal of English furniture for Blandfield, one of the grandest houses in Virginia. Among the things he sought were “a neat plain Table for a Tea Table, & a neat Mahogany tea board,” “one Dozn plain mahogany Chairs . . . for a dining room,” and “a Neat looking Glass . . . in a neat white Frame for my drawing room.” Beverley admonished his agent: “The furniture I beg may be [as] neat and plain as possible.” When Charles Carroll of Mount Clare plantation, Maryland, ordered goods in 1767, he noted: “as they are for my own use I would have them of the best sorts—the furniture of the neat Plain fashion and Calculated for Lasting[,] nothing of the Whimsical or Chinese Taste which I abominate.”

Taking note of such aesthetic concerns, Chesapeake cabinetmakers produced vast quantities of elegant neat and plain furniture like that exhibited here.