By Chrissie Masters of The Design Gallery
The Arts and Crafts Movement was a social and moral campaign against the Industrial Revolution and a response to the lack of direction in much of Victorian design. Its founding father, back in the 1860s, was William Morris, and his influence is still with us today.
The movement was born when British designers and architects reacted vehemently against the mass produced factory goods, in a mishmash of revived styles, shown at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. The result was a return to honest craftsmanship, meaningful design and a purity of line and form.
Simple and practical oak furniture, brass, pewter, silver and copper metalwork with motifs inspired by nature, hand-blown glass and hand-thrown ceramics are the hallmarks of the time. These are pieces with soul, imbued with the individual aesthetic tastes and philosophical ideals of both the artists and the craftsmen.
Arts and Crafts furniture and home accessories are some of the best value items of progressive design available. While prices for furniture by Morris & Co and ceramics by William De Morgan and Ruskin can fetch many thousands of pounds, you can find dining suites, sideboards, bookcases and bureaux by Liberty & Co, Shapland & Petter of Barnstaple and London makers Harris Lebus at prices that are often considerably less than the modern copies. Copper and brass work still sits, unrecognised, in charity shops and boot sales and if you are lucky, can be bought for as little as £10. Demand for British Arts and Crafts is growing worldwide.
William Morris decreed that you should have nothing in your home that you did not consider to be useful or beautiful and it was a belief that he lived by. The Red House in Red House Lane, Bexleyheath was commissioned by Morris as the new home for himself and his bride, Jane Burden, and was designed by his close friend Philip Webb in 1858-9. Morris and his artistic friends including the pre-Raphelite painter Edward Burne-Jones threw themselves into designing the furniture, stained glass and fabrics for the interior. The house itself is medieval in influence, but without the gothic detailing, while the interior is an ordered and harmonious example of the early days of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Over in West Hoathly Road, East Grinstead, Standen was also designed by Webb, for the Beale family in 1891. It was built between 1892 and 1894. Inside you will find lighting by WAS Benson – this was one of the first homes to pioneer electric light – copper work by the maestro of Arts & Crafts metal John Pearson, and ceramics by the great potter William De Morgan, amongst other designers. Go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk for further details of Standen and The Red House.
William Morris’s childhood home is now the centre for the William Morris Gallery, Lloyd Park, Forest Road, London E17 which holds collections by important followers of the Morris style.