Arts & Crafts Movement


William Morris style Wallpaper
featured in the William Morris Suite

The Victorian style of heavily ornamented interiors displaying many pieces of furniture, collections of small ornamental objects, and surfaces covered with fringed cloths prevailed in middle-class homes in England and America during the latter half of the 19th century. In both countries, techniques of mass production promoted the use of reproductions in many different styles. William Morris, the British poet, artist and architect rejected this opulence in favor of simplicity, good craftsmanship, and good design. The Arts & Crafts Movement was born.

To the proponents of Arts & Crafts, the Industrial Revolution separated humans from their own creativity and individualism; the worker was a cog in the wheel of progress, living in an environment of shoddy machine-made goods, based more on ostentation than function. These proponents sought to reestablish the ties between beautiful work and the worker, returning to an honesty in design not to be found in mass-produced items. In both Britain and America the movement relied on the talent and creativity of the individual craftsman and attempted to create a total environment. While, the American and British styles shared this philosophy, they differed greatly in execution.

The British movement focused on the richly detailed gothic style. Their interior walls were either white-washed or covered in wallpaper depicting medieval themes. The pottery and textile designs were intricate, colorful and realistic. While the original intent was to provide handmade goods to the common man, the cost of paying craftsmen an honest wage resulted in higher prices than the common man could afford. This limited the movement to the upper class.

In contrast, the American movement drew inspiration from the materials, choosing to highlight the grain of the wood or the form of the pot. They incorporated walls of rich wood tones, relegating wallpaper to borders. Paints were in rich earth tones. Furniture and architectural details were designed to take advantage of machines allowing the individual craftsmen to assemble the furniture and finish the wood. The use of machines lowered the cost, making the furniture, pottery and metalwork affordable and therefore available to "the people".