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Which department store originated the concept of selling artistic home furnishings?

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Arts & Crafts:
From William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright

by Arnold Schwartzman

The author focuses on a British craftsmen, such as William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who turned their backs on the mass production of the Industrial Revolution to form a ‘Round Table’ in order to establish a means of returning to hand-crafted products.

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Argyle Chair
Charles Rennie Macintosh

LATEST ANTIQUES ARTICLE______________________________

Taking Furniture Design in a New Direction
by Bob Brooke


The Victorians had their revivals—all seven of them. By the last quarter of the 19th century, some British designers felt it was time for a new direction in furniture design, inspired by William Morris. He wanted to see homes of middle-class people filled with everyday furniture and for the rich, art furniture.

Innovative furniture designers of the early British Arts & Crafts Movement employed a variety of techniques to create their pieces, as well as revived the guild method. Inlays, carving, and painting were most commonly used to decorate cabinets and elaborate sideboards. For simple chairs and tables, they used plain solid English oak, clear-finished, stained, or fumed to darken it.

British furniture made in the Arts and Crafts style typically featured rectilinear and angular forms and pared down, stylized motifs evocative of medieval, Islamic, and Japanese design.

In Scotland, influential figures such as Christopher Dresser contributed to the flowering of the Glasgow style, which incorporated elements of the Celtic Revival into the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Morris & Company
William Morris operated his first business—Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company—like a medieval workshop. The company produced sturdy, well-proportioned pieces with minimal decoration from 1861 to 1875. Other designers, including Philip Webb, Hugh Baillie Scott, and Ernest We. Gimson, combined Morris’ desire for the traditional with modern decorative ideas to create combinations of useful, plain and homely furniture. Morris’s art furniture was highly decorative and made from rich woods like ebony and walnut. He often inlaid these pieces with exotic woods and decorated with ornate metal handles and strap hinges.

Morris strongly believed that furniture should be made by hand by skilled craftsmen using traditional techniques. He was against using machines and mass-production.

He founded his company—Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company—with his artist friends Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and Ford Madox Brown, plus the architect Philip Webb in 1861. Located in London and known as “the Firm,” it produced objects inspired by nature and a romanticized view of the myths and legends of the Middle Ages. The result was a variety of furniture, ceramics, textiles, wallpaper, and carpets that used local materials to create innovative forms.

When Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company folded in 1875, Morris founded Morris & Company which produced traditional furniture of mahogany inlaid with satinwood..

Made of ash with a handwoven rush seat, with backs featuring turned wooden spindles, the first “Sussex” chairs appeared in the 1880s from a design by Webb. During this time, Morris & Company also produced the “Morris” chair, a hefty armchair upholstered in the company’s fabric.

By the 1890s, George Jack, an American craftsmen, had taken over as chief designer, producing more elaborate furniture. Morris had also changed his thinking and believed that there should be everyday chairs and tables, as well as what he called “state” furniture—sideboards, cabinets, etc.–created as much for beauty’s sake as well as function. Though carving, inlaying, and painting, Morris sought to make these pieces as elegant as possible.

The result was immense mahogany dressers and buffets decorated with extravagant marquetry, pierced carving, and glazed doors—all very different from the simple country furniture that remained a staple of the company. Morris & Company closed in 1940.

C.F.A. Voysey
Charles Francis Annesley Voysey thought of himself as a traditionalist when it came to furniture design, but his individuality made him a radical to others. He believed that furniture should be practical. His designs were graceful, useful, and featured minimal decoration.

Though trained as an architect, he began to design furniture in the 1890. His background enabled him to design pieces that were integrated into a home rather than a collection of different pieces within in. Voysey believed that patterns and colors in a room should be reduced, and
that each piece of furniture within it should be the best of its kind so that the decorative value of each piece will stand out.

Voysey’s elegant furniture relied on the natural beauty of the wood. He often used untreated oak, free from stain or polish. His pieces relied on the structure and proportion of design for their originality. The craftsmanship of the cabinetmaker was primary. Voysey decorated simple cabinets with panels carved in low relief with eleaboarte metal strap hinges of brass or leather. is chairs featured rush or leather seats with vertical, tapering upgrights and heart0shaped cutouts.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh
The furniture created by Charles Rennie Macintosh didn’t conform to the Arts & Crafts style associated with Morris and Ruskin. He dismissed their emphasis on craftsmanship and the natural beauty of the wood in favor of designing unique, sohpicated pieces. He employed strong geometric forms with little decoration, preferring to instead paint his pieces in pale colors.

Mackintosh created original designs, including chairs with tall slim backs and cupboards with projecting cornices. He designed furniture for Guthrie & Wells, a Glasgow manufacturer. His furniture, while it didn’t fit with contemporary British fashions, was widely popular in Europe.

Robert (Mouseman) Thompson
Robert (Mouseman) Thompson was a British furniture maker who lived in Kilburn, North Yorkshire, England, where he set up a business manufacturing oak furniture, which featured a carved mouse on almost every piece. Supposedly, the mouse motif came about accidentally in 1919 following a conversation about "being as poor as a church mouse", which took place between Thompson and one of his colleagues during the carving of a cornice for a screen.

Thompson took part in the 1920s revival of craftsmanship, inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement led by William Morris, John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle three decades earlier.

His constructed his furniture of plain English oak that had an uneve, rippled surface shaped with an adze. One craftsman, responsible for the entire process, worked on each piece.from choosing the wood to the final waxing. Craftsmen joined sections using mortise and tenon joints with dowels for extra strength and stability. They employed a process called “fuming” to color the wood which uses ammonia fumes to give a color that ages to a rich golden brown.

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