During the nineteenth century an awareness had developed that national style reflected the moral values of a society: if a society was unable to produce good design then the fault lay in its ethical system – a nations art was a symptom of its moral health. The arts and crafts movement combined this feeling with its own social aims, finding a perfect symbolism in the return to medievalism. Fine craftsmanship was never in jeopardy, but the need for ‘an English art for England’, culminating in the adoption of Gothic as the best national idiom, gave the men of the arts and crafts movement, the majority of them architects, the necessary representation of a popular art and allowed them, in rejecting more traditional styles, to bring back to the people whom their political aims supported. Their furniture reflected in concrete form the way of life of the craftsman, stressing the honesty of production with structural features becoming often the focal point of the decoration. ‘Fitness for purpose’ became an element of style, and although the same principle was held by designers whose work was machine made, in the arts and Crafts doctrine ‘purpose’ was defined in relation to everyday life among the wood shavings, and the smell of resin, in the silvershop or blacksmith’s and not to the world of industry, commerce and ‘laisser-faire’. Arts and Crafts, Anscombe and Gere.
The arts and crafts movement was, first and foremost, an effort to reform the domestic environment. ‘Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,’ Morris advised. And design reformers obliged by eliminating the superfluous and the unsightly from their surroundings. They were single minded in their purpose, hoping to improve living conditions, and, thereby, to strengthen the character of the individual. But they differed in their approach, as there was no clear-cut path to follow in achieving their goal. Consequently, arts and crafts interiors vary greatly, from minute detail to overall character. They are similar in that all unite the useful with the beautiful. Yet they are different, as each is a unique expression of a particular set of influences, including designer, client, time period, location and cultural milieu.