More Arts & Crafts in Asheville, Feb 16-19

book review: William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Home

Morrisbookcoverdad Pamela Todd, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Home, photographs by Chris Tubbs, Chronicle Books, 2005

Pamela Todd and Chris Tubbs have compiled a welcome overview of the life, the philosophy, the works, and the influence of William Morris, the English 19th century polymath who is universally considered the father of the Arts and Crafts style. Morris (1834-1896), best known as a designer of floral textiles and wallpapers, promoted an arts and crafts aesthetic even before the appellation was invented, opening his London shop 1861 to sell hand crafted furniture, stained glass, and miscellaneous decorative products to the modestly avant guarde consumers of the period, upper middle-class consumers disgusted with mass produced products and Victorian excess. In the years that followed he and a range of talented associates pioneered new design principles that powerfully influenced English, and later American, architecture and interior furnishings.

This book focuses on the Arts and Crafts home, devoting text and pictures first to the homes Morris himself lived in (Red House in Kent and Kelmscott Manor in the Cotswolds) and then presenting six “case studies” of Morris principles applied to a manor house, a country house, a town house, a mansion, a farm house, and a late-Victorian terraced home.

All of these homes, handsomely photographed, share Morris’ distinctive style - handmade crafts; natural colors; a tendency toward the gothic; furniture that, by the standards of the period at least, were simply designed; painted and papered walls; richly floral rugs.

While a bit elaborate for American Arts and Crafts sensibilities - here the style associates more with middle class bungalows, wood shingles, paneled walls, and Stickleyesque furniture - Morris’ principles set the tone for design conscious homeowners then, and now. His legacy - homes and furnishings that are simple, solid, beautiful, and functional - carries on.