Thomas Sheraton (1781-1806) was born at Stockton-on-Tees and settled in London about 1790. Although trained as a cabinetmaker, he was primarily a designer, whose fame rests on his published works, of which the first and most influential was The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterers´ Drawing-Book, originally issued in four parts between 1791 and 1794. The Cabinet Dictionary (1803) contains many useful and instructive definitions, as well as practical information about the technique of cabinet- and chair-making. Only about a quarter of his last work, the Cabinet-Maker, Upholsterer and General Artists´ Encyclopaedia appeared just before his death.
No pieces of furniture have been traced to Sheraton, so it is highly improbable that he ever had a workshop or ever made any furniture. On his trade card, with the address of 106 Wardour Street, Soho, which he had printed about 1795, he announced that he "teaches Perspective, Architecture, and Ornaments and makes designs for Cabinet-makers, and sells all kinds of Drawing Books". This probably gives an accurate account of his activities. He is not known to have provided designs for any particular piece of furniture except in one case: that of a somewhat preposterous grand piano in satinwood with Wedgwood and Tassie medallions, made in 1796 by John Broadwood for presentation to Queen Maria Louisa of Spain.
Sheraton later moved to No. 8 Broad Street, Golden Square. The approximate position of his Wardour Street premises is commemorated by Sheraton Street, between Great Chapel Street and Wardour Street.
Sheraton´s Drawing-Book was addressed primarily to the trade and its aim was practical - to acquaint cabinetmakers with the most up-to-date designs. He remarks that "in conversing with cabinetmakers" he found "no one individual equally experienced in every job of work. There are certain pieces made in one shop that are not manufactured in another", and he had, therefore, applied "to the best workmen in different shops, to obtain their assistance in the explanation of such pieces as they have been most acquainted with." He frequently acknowledges his indebtedness to those who had helped him. In addition, he appears to have studied the Louis XVI style furniture, which had recently been brought across the Channel, and also the work carried out at the time by Henry Holland at Carlton House.
An ardent Baptist, Sheraton published religious tracts as well as furniture designs, and put forward schemes for evangelizing the villages around London. Having been ordained a Baptist minister, he left London for Stockton and Marston in 1800, but seems to have returned to London two years later. In 1804, his mind gave way and he died in poverty.
Adam Black, the founder of the publishing house of A. & C. Black Ltd., had lodged with Sheraton in the house at Broad Street, and described him as "a man of talents, and, I believe of genuine piety. He understands the cabinet-business - I believe was bred to it - he has been, perhaps at present is, a preacher; he is a scholar, writes well; draws, in my opinion, masterly; is an author, bookseller, stationer, and teacher."
If Sheraton did not invent the furniture style named after him, he certainly played a leading role in formulating it. His Drawing-Book designs have a remarkable stylistic unity - a marked preference for the simple, sometimes severe, outlines combined with flat (painted or inlaid) decoration of great delicacy and elaboration, sometimes with stringing lines and contrasting veneers in geometrical patterns, sometimes with intricate arabesques or figurative panels. Whereas many earlier designers (especially Rococo designers) seem almost to have been ashamed of using wood as their medium, Sheraton´s patterns emphasize its essential qualities. The grains of the veneers are carefully delineated; the forms are those which come easily to craftsmen working with saws and lathes. He made free play with antique ornaments of the type used by Adam (urns, paterae, vases, and swags) but without pedantry. His designs are very elegant, very delicate, and perhaps rather feminine.