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17 September 2014
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Arts and crafts living room

Arts and crafts (c.1860 to 1910)

The arts and crafts movement was made up of English designers and writers who wanted a return to well-made, handcrafted goods instead of mass-produced, poor quality machine-made items.

William Morris wallpaper

Inspired by socialist principles and led by William Morris, the members of the movement used the medieval system of trades and guilds to set up their own companies to sell their goods. Unfortunately, it had the reverse effect and, apart from the wealthy middle classes, hardly anyone could afford their designs.

Visually, the style has much in common with its contemporary art nouveau and it played a role in the founding of Bauhaus and modernism.


  • handmade
  • simple forms with little ornamentation
  • beauty of natural materials
  • copper and pewter - often with a hammered finish
  • stylised flowers, allegories from the Bible and literature, upside down hearts, Celtic motifs


  • medieval styles - the Gothic revival led by AN Pugin
  • socialism - the ideas of John Ruskin and early Marx, especially the dehumanising effects of industrialization
  • the Orient - the pared-down quality of Japanese art

The names

  • William Morris - set up own company with fellow artists called Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co in 1861, (later just Morris & Co), which produced everything from furniture and textiles to wallpaper and jewellery
  • William de Morgan - glass, tiles and pottery
  • CFA Voysey - wallpaper, textiles and silverware
  • Richard Norman Shaw - architect

At the time

  • 1861 Great Expectations is written by Charles Dickens
  • 1863 first underground railway opens in London
  • 1867 Karl Marx writes Capital: A Critique of Political Economy
  • 1874 major Impressionist art exhibition with works by Monet, Degas, Renoir
  • 1885 Thomas Edison invents the light bulb

tapestry cushion, heart-shaped detail on copper mirror frame, arts and crafts chair, Morris wallpaper and blue and white china

Get the look

  • Furniture - should be wooden and handmade or at least look as if it's handmade. Oak is the most used wood. Look for furniture with cut-outs of upside down hearts; other trademarks are copper and leather straps. Chairs have rush or leather seats.
  • Floors - Wooden floors in either parquet or boards in oak give that rustic feel. Polish or stain them to a dark finish.
  • Colour schemes - cream, terracotta, mustard yellow, olive green, deep blue and a deep crimson.
  • Walls - these can be wood panelled but should be painted a dull green or greeny-blue.
  • Wallpaper - is key. The originals used vegetable dyes and wood blocks. Today, there are literally hundreds of original William Morris designs still being manufactured by the major companies. Choose large-scale patterns with repeats. The firm Sanderson bought all the original printing blocks from Morris's firm when it closed down.
  • Fireplaces - If you have an original arts and crafts house, the fireplace probably still dominates the room. They had huge wide hearths set in an inglenook or recess. The mantelpiece was carved, often with a motto above it.
  • Tiles - very similar to art nouveau ones but with brighter colours - cobalt blue, turquoise, greens and reds. Typical motifs include galleons and stylised flowers. They can still be picked up in salvage yards today or reproductions are available
  • The Orient - add a touch of the Orient by adding blue and white china, palm leaf fans, screens, and oriental rugs.
  • Stained glass - this was very popular, because of its medieval feel. Enlist a stained glass designer or if you just want a feel for it, try painting your own with some of the many glass paints around.
  • Curtains and curtain poles - put up plain wooden or brass curtain poles. Curtains shouldn't have any frills or flounces.
  • Lighting - plain wall sconces are best for lighting.
  • Flowers - decorate using simple flower arrangements or a potted house palm.
  • Abide by William Morris' s belief, ' Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful'.

What to invest in

  • anything with the label Morris & Co (George Jack was one of its principal designers), Hukin & Heath, or Mappin & Webb
  • CFA Voysey textiles - similar to Morris but slightly more stylised

Where to see it

  • Kelmscott House, London W6 - The William Morris Society's HQ
  • William Morris Gallery, London - where he lived, now a museum
  • Leighton House Museum, London
  • Hampstead Garden Suburb and Bedford Park, London - built by Richard Norman Shaw
  • Standen, East Grinstead, West Sussex - decorated throughout in William Morris. Tel: 01342 323029

Further reading

  • The Arts and Crafts House Adrian Tinniswood (Mitchell Beazley)
  • The Arts and Crafts Movement Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Caplan (Thames & Hudson)
  • The Arts and Crafts Home Wendy Hitchmough (Pavilion)

© Image copyright:
Morris wallpaper image courtesy of Sanderson

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William Morris Society
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