British and Irish Furniture Makers Online

BIFMO is the Furniture History Society's free online database comprising biographical details and histories of furniture makers, designers and ancillary trades across Britain and Ireland from the sixteenth century to the early decades of the twentieth century. This source is constantly updated with details from scholarly published sources and through our research initiatives, funded through generous grants and personal gifts to the Society, and BIFMO's dynamic outreach programme.

Initially conceived and developed in partnership with the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research (IHR), the BIFMO project is now in its eighth year and solely managed by the FHS, with the website hosted and developed by a company supporting innovative ways of publishing information digitally. You can find us at BIFMO.

The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, edited by Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert, serves as the foundation and inspiration for the BIFMO database, currently containing nearly 87,000 records across six sources.  This includes updated biographies from the Dictionary, together with the details of thousands of previously undocumented historical furniture-making craftspeople and firms in the industry.  The sources include:

  1. The Dictionary of British and Irish Furniture Makers, 1500-1914
  2. A Dictionary of Edinburgh Wrights and Furniture Makers, 1660-1840
  3. A Dictionary of Norfolk Furniture Makers, 1700-1840
  4. The Bernard and Geraldine Cotton Archive, 1700-1900
  5. London Joiners’ Company records, 1640-1820
  6. London Upholders’ Company records, 1704-1772

The result is our globally-free research tool, which offers a wealth of information and entries in the field of furniture, social and economic history, as well as details about the interiors and furnishings of British and Irish country and town houses.  It serves as a research source into furniture and associated trades, manufacturers, and suppliers; their organising structures; their clientele; their production and the services they provided.  

In addition to providing scholars, academics, students, collectors, and the antique trade and market with a variety of comprehensive information, new research is published through biographies and blogs.  Our first research initiative was a collaboration with the IHR's Layers of London project, where approximately 16,000 London furniture makers, c. 1600-1880, are mapped.

The project is currently managing three research projects:

  1. The Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society catalogues (funded by the Albert Dawson Educational Trust).  Now online and known as ACES, this resource presents full transcriptions of eleven catalogues in a searchable format for the years 1888-1916.  It also contains a cumulative index of every exhibitor, designer and maker who participated.  Work is in progress to link existing BIFMO biographies to the index and write new accounts of furniture makers and associated craftspeople. 
  2. Migration and Craftsmanship (funded by the Decorative Arts Trust).  This project is documenting British and Irish furniture makers who migrated to port cities along the US eastern seaboard throughout the long eighteenth century, including New York City, Philadelphia, several locations in Maryland and northern Virginia, and Savannah.  By the end of 2024, biographies of approximately 140 previously undocumented furniture makers - and several others briefly noted in the Dictionary - will be published in the BIFMO database. 
  3. The Graham Gadd Archive at National Museums Scotland (funded by the Worshipful Company of Art Scholars).  The archive includes approximately 1,100 billheads and ephemera relating to a broad range of 19th and early 20th century British furniture makers.  BIFMO interns scanned and digitised images of the collection to illustrate existing biographies and those previously unrecorded in our database will appear in new accounts. 

British and Irish Furniture Makers Online is the Furniture History Society's research tool for the 21st century. 

A cabinet-maker's office, c.1770 © Victoria & Albert Museum