William Morris ~ Design Ideas

Morris's circle of furniture designs generally falls into 2 categories. The early Gothic cum Arts & Crafts pieces and the later more refined work, especially after George Jack was involved. The later work is refined, elegant turn of the century in style, but not as distinct as the early work.

The early work was produced by a circle of friends & enthusiasts with little or no skill or training in design or producing furniture (Webb maybe being the exception). The furniture was heavy, clunky, chunky Gothic shapes, going against all the current styles of their time. Yet this is the work that today looks best, the designs still look good & original, there is a certain naivety to the work.

We like to discuss the design ideas of many of the famous designers of the past. If there is one general comment to be made of all of them it is that no designer lives in a vacuum, but is influenced by all that has gone before and by his contemporaries and contemporary values.

Writers on the history of design have often implied that certain designers completely broke away from the past to produce a style so new that it owed nothing, or very little, to the past. Which is quite frankly garbage.

With a lot of research you can trace the design sources of most of the major designers ideas and models. What most designers do is take an example of something they like and re make it in their own style. This page is really just some thoughts on the origins of Morris and his circles' design sources, especially in the early days when their ideas were being formed.

Wm Morris & Co Gothic Arts and Crafts Movement the Red House stairs newel post Pugin design as source for the Red House stairs newel post by philip Webb Close up of Pugin design as source for the Red House stairs newel post by philip Webb

AWN Pugin is often cited as a great influence on the Firm, which he was. Influence takes a practical form; it seems surprising that no one has noticed that Philip Webb's famous staircase for the Red House is a case in point. The feature newel posts were actually copied from the drawing of a church spire on the cover of one of Pugins' books, shown above.

Another example. The strongly chamfered bed foot posts which Madox Brown designed for the Artisan suite bed were an exact copy of the newel posts on the back stairs at the Red House, by his colleague Philip Webb. The strong use of chamfering on both of their furniture designs can be traced directly to Pugins' furniture.

William Morris & Co. Gothic Arts and Crafts Movement x frame table, furniture Ford Madox Brown design for Wm Morris & Co. Gothic Arts and Crafts Movement x frame table, furniture

The table on the left was designed by Madox Brown in the early days of the firm. The table on the right was a tavern table, c1830. The similarities between the two are surely more than co-incidence. Both have an X frame base and both have a twisted iron stretcher securing the two X frames. Madox Brown added the chamfers and same tabletop edge moulding profile used by Pugin.

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