Style Guide: Arts & Crafts

Cabinet, Lewis Foreman Day, about 1888. Museum no. CIRC.349-1955

Cabinet, Lewis Foreman Day, about 1888. Museum no. CIRC.349-1955

Arts and Crafts style developed in the 1860s as a reaction against the growing industrialisation of Victorian Britain. Those involved believed in the equality of all the arts and the importance and pleasure of work. The appearance of the style resulted from the principles involved in the making of the objects. By the end of the century such ideals had affected the design and manufacture of all the decorative arts in Britain.

Characteristics

Truth to materials

Preserving and emphasising the natural qualities of the materials used to make objects was one of the most important principles of Arts and Crafts style.

Simple forms

Simple forms were one of the hallmarks of the Arts and Crafts style. There was no extravagant or superfluous decoration and the actual construction of the object was often exposed.

Natural motifs  

Nature was an important source of Arts and Crafts motifs. The patterns used were inspired by the flora and fauna of the British countryside.

The vernacular 

The vernacular, or domestic, traditions of the British countryside provided the main inspiration for the Arts and Crafts Movement. Many of those involved set up workshops in rural areas and revived old techniques.

People

William Morris (1834-1896)

William Morris was the central figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement and one of the most important and influential designers in British History. In 1861 he founded his first company which produced a wide range of decorative objects for the home including furniture, fabrics, wallpaper and stained glass. Morris was also renowned as a poet and writer and in 1890 he became a printer, setting up the Kelmscott Press. Morris combined his artistic skills with strong political beliefs. A committed conservationist and Socialist, he dedicated his life to the idea that art should improve the lives of ordinary people.

C.R. Ashbee (1863-1942)

Charles Robert Ashbee was a major figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement. He designed many important pieces of jewellery and silver tableware for the Guild of Handicraft, which he established in 1888 in the East End of London. The Guild's work is characterised by plain surfaces of hammered silver, flowing wirework and coloured stones in simple settings. In 1902 Ashbee moved the Guild out of London to found an experimental community in Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds.

C. F. A. Voysey  (1857-1941)

Charles Francis Annesley Voysey was one of the most innovative Arts and Crafts architects. He was also a very versatile designer and produced designs for wallpaper, fabrics, tiles, ceramics, furniture and metalwork. Some of his patterns were used for objects in a wide variety of materials. Voysey had a highly original style which combined simplicity with sophistication. He became particularly famous for his wallpaper and textile designs which feature stylised bird and plant forms with bold outlines and flat colours.

Buildings and Interiors

The Red House

The Red House, in Bexleyheath, was designed in 1858-1860 by Philip Webb for his friend William Morris. Webb rejected the grand classical style and instead found inspiration in British vernacular architecture. With its well-proportioned solid forms, deep porches, steep roof, pointed window arches, brick fireplaces and wooden fittings, The Red House characterises the early Arts and Crafts style.
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/redhouse

37 Cheyne Walk, London

37 Cheyne Walk was built by C.R. Ashbee in 1893-1894. It was the home of his mother and sister and also contained Ashbee's architectural offices. The house was known as The Ancient Magpie and Stump after a public house which once stood on the site.

The Orchard, Chorleywood

C.F.A. Voysey designed The Orchard in Chorleywood for himself and his wife in 1899. Like other Arts and Crafts designers, Voysey was interested in vernacular traditions. With its sparse decoration and plain and simple furnishings, The Orchard was very different from the usual dark and cluttered Victorian interior. This simplicity anticipates 20th-century modern styles.


Related Style

Gothic Revival 1830 - 1880

The Gothic Revival had a great impact on the Arts and Crafts style. The interest in all things Medieval and the use of bold forms and strong colours were particularly inspirational. The truth to material, structure and function advocated by A.W.N. Pugin became crucial principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Arts and Crafts designers also shared John Ruskin's belief in the moral purpose of art.

Read more about Gothic Revival

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