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William Morris: 19th Century Furniture Design Reformist

Updated on December 17, 2016

In the mid 19th century, there evolved a design reformation in England which was led by a group of early reformers; furniture designers and artists, who ranked as creative individuals of repute and comprised of talented men whose ideals went beyond ‘upright’ values of the arts' movement.

William Morris
William Morris | Source

Their protest stemmed from the fact that mass-produced furniture which flooded the market due to the effects of the Industrial Revolution were of inferior quality, and 'made nonsense' of the art of producing finely crafted bespoke furniture.

This group of early reformers was led by William Morris and included furniture designers and architects including Richard Redgrave, Henry Cole, Phillip Webb, and Owen Jones. They wanted new design values that demonstrated honest 'to God' workmanship with a fairer representation of good materials.

Unfortunately, the group's collective voice made no impact due to the lack of any clearly defined alternative or viable approach to the visual aspects of machine manufactured furniture designs.

And if their quest for honest craftsmanship hadn't led them backward to the Middle Ages, William Morris and his coterie's importance in the contemporary furniture design development would have gone unquestioned.

A William Morris Chair
A William Morris Chair | Source

Of all the members of the design reformation group, Phillip Webb stood out as an astounding furniture designer and architect. It was he who designed William Morris's famous country home, the "Red House".

The home boasted of tastefully created interiors and beautifully crafted furniture, decorated ornamentally by William Morris himself and the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The design of Red House freed architecture from its rigid styles and the pomposities of pseudo-romanticism and enabled Phillip Webb to design tasteful stylistic features.

Famous William Morris chairs were produced with heavy solid wood sections but were made with simple construction and honesty of concept, making them symbols of arts and crafts furniture.

William Morris's disciples made great attempts to keep alive the traditions of honest and dedicated design and craftsmanship, they found it a challenge to have any effect on 19th-century designs.

They eventually fell under the influence of the new design philosophy of Art Nouveau.

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