Arts and Crafts Style

Arts and Crafts Style

By the mid-1800s in England, the ideas of architect A.W.N. Pugin, especially those espousing “honest construction” in architecture and furniture design, and the purity of Gothic style, considerable influenced the writer and art critic John Ruskin, and the architect and poet William Morris, leading to the formation of the Arts & Crafts Movement. They believed in the virtue of honest design, top quality materials, craftsmanship and traditional skills, and the importance of beautiful surroundings. Maintaining that the Middle Ages was the golden age of craftsmanship, the craftsmen of the Arts & Crafts Movement formed themselves into medieval-style guilds. In fact, William Morris’s use of natural forms translated into flat patterns was at once a synthesis of medievalism and modernism, and he was the 19th century's most influential designer.

The Arts & Crafts Movement was a reaction not only against the mechanisation used in industrial production but also against industrial society. It grew out of the individualism associated with the revival of the Gothic style.

A typical Arts & Crafts cottage would be low-ceilinged, be built of local materials, and contain an inglenook fireplace, ledge-and-brace oak doors, wide polished floorboards, oak furniture and stencilled friezes.

 

 

The wish to provide good design for all and to survive in a competitive world led increasingly to the use of standard parts and batch production methods in the Arts & Crafts workshops. Nevertheless, the products were bought largely by the rich and sophisticated because of their style as well as their cost.

One of the most successful designers of the time was the architect C.F.A. Voysey. A member of the Arts & Crafts Movement, he soon developed his own lighter, more elegant style. He is regarded as one of the English designers who pioneered the style that developed into Art Nouveau, but Voysey himself dismissed Art Nouveau as “revolting”.

In the 1860s and 1870s a number of English architects, notable Richard Norman Shaw, reacted against the Gothic revival and sought inspiration in vernacular architecture (leading to what was known as the Old English style) and the late 17th century, particularly the architecture of Christopher Wren (resulting in the Queen Anne revival style). The Queen Anne style house, in red brick with a tiled roof, was a mixture of classical features, Georgian ash windows and Dutch gables. Queen Anne revival furniture was also produced. Another highly influential turn-of-the-century British architect designing houses in the Queen Anne style was Edwin Lutyens.

Arts and Crafts Style in brief:

  • Plain and simple painted walls in white, blues, greens, woodwork in same colour;
  • Polished oak or pine floors;
  • Introduction of picture rails and plate rails.

 

The Aesthetic Movement

This was another reform movement that arose in the last quarter of the century in England and America. Reacting against what it described as the “philistine” taste of the Victorian era, the Aesthetic Movement believed in art for art’s sake. It denied, however, that art had any social or moral value, and this set it apart from the Arts & Crafts Movement. The Aesthetic style also tended to be more exotic and sophisticated in approach; it was this movement that led to the use of white walls and ceilings to give a feeling of space. It was influenced by japonaiserie, the fashion for Japanese decoration which had followed the opening of Japanese ports to trade with the West in the middle of the century. The architect E.W. Godwin was the leading designer in the Anglo-Japanese style and one of the principal figures of the Aesthetic Movement.

Arthur Liberty, who founded his London store in 1875, promoted the Japanese style with blue-and-white porcelain, peacock feathers, etc., and these in turn influenced fabrics. For example, the stylized textile designs of E.W. Godwin incorporating fans and roundels were taken from Japanese blue-and-white porcelain.

 

 

Arts and Crafts Furniture and Fabrics

Arts & Crafts seating included close-covered bench seats and ladder-back chairs with rush seats. The simplicity and solidity of Philip Webb’s austere oak furniture epitomised Arts & Crafts furniture. Dark oak was used for these pieces.

William Morris was very interested in textile design and favoured handblocked printing. Influenced not only by medieval art but also by Islamic, Persian and Italian Renaissance textiles, Morris believed that motifs from nature could be flattened and stylized, but that they should still look as though they were growing naturally.

Arts and Crafts Furniture and Fabrics in brief:

  • Bleached oak much in favour;
  • Ladderback chairs and settles, all with rush seats;
  • Linens, cottons, cretonnes patterned with flowers and animals from Morris & Co. and Liberty.

 

Colours

The Arts & Crafts Movement had a subtle palette of olive green, hyacinth blue, plum, burgundy, lemon yellow, taupe, old rose, ivory, pale grey and white. In collaboration with Thomas Wardle, the most skilled British dyer of the late 19th century, William Morris revived the art of using vegetable dye. Morris and Wardle experimented with four basic colours, red, yellow, brown and blue, and produced indigo, pale orange, a grey-green, brown orange and garnet red.

 

Windows

Casement, curtain hung on pole or with frilled valance.

 

Lighting

Hanging metal pendant oil and electric lamps with glass shades;

Table lamps of copper or brass.

 

Arts and Crafts Buildings

The Red House, Standen, Cragside, the Orchard, Chorley Wood, Wightwick Manor, Kelmscott Manor.

 

 

© Adrienne Chinn - London