Beginnings

 The Arts and Crafts movement was founded in the late 19th Century by a group of British artists and social reformers inspired by John Ruskin, William Morris and AWN Pugin. It developed as a reaction to the rise of Victorian mass production and industrialisation which the adherents of the movement believed to result in shoddy and ugly products and degraded the worker.  Morris formed these opinions based on reading John Ruskin but also by his reaction to the Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851. Morris was disgusted by the ugliness of the mass produced exhibits, which seemed to him devoid of any soul.  What began as a return to medieval style, furnishings and architecture and importantly its workers’ guilds developed under Morris’ inspiration to embrace everyday handmade crafts.  These crafts celebrate the individuality of the craftsmen and women who made them.

The movement acquired its name in 1888 when William Morris’s tapestries, William de Morgan’s tiles, Walter Crane’s wallpapers and Edward Burne-Jones’s stained glass designs went on show in London along with other work by the newly formed Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. The show was a great success.  In the catalogue to this exhibition Walter Crane set out the Society’s mission statement: ‘to turn our artists into craftsmen and craftsmen into artists’.

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, “The Firm”

Formed in 1861 by Morris and his friends, The Firm began making furniture.  Philip Webb, the architect of Red House provided furniture designs along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown.  Webb’s first recorded furniture design (1858) was heavily influenced by Augustus Pugin (his book Gothic Furniture in the style of the Fifteenth Century had been published in 1835).  This was a massive wardrobe which was painted by Burne Jones with a scene from the Prioress’s tale from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and was a wedding present for Morris and Jane.  The furniture styles moved from the heavily gothic to the more simple country designs of the mid-Eighteenth Century and developed into one of the staples of the firm the rush seated Sussex chair (left).

In 1866 the chair that was to become the signature piece of the Arts and Crafts movement appeared.  The ‘Morris chair’ as it became known was based on a chair found in a Sussex carpenter’s shop and adapted by Philip Webb. He created a moveable back that could be set at different angles.  The chair was available either in ebonised wood or plan. This example is covered with the ‘Bird’ design upholstery.

The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society established in 1888 exhibited the work of its members at a time when there were very little retail outlets for selling Arts and Craft pieces.  Early on in its existence the Society exhibited the furniture of CR Ashbee, Sidney Barnsley, Ernest Gimson and WR Lethaby amongst others. It also attributed each piece of furniture to the individual designer rather than the firm that produced it.  The furniture they exhibited was unlike anything being produced commercially at the time.

America and Europe

In America, Gustav Stickley was one of the main promoters of Arts and Crafts style and ideals.  He was profoundly influenced by the work of William Morris and the ideals of Ruskin. He visited England in 1898 and a year later established his own guild of artisans in Eastwood, New York.  He adapted the theories and philosophies of English Arts and Crafts to the American industry and market. He

Sold a whole range of home products through his mail-order catalogues.  He tried to combine the high ideals of craftsmanship with the latest machinery to make furniture in which the design and construction harmonised with the wood. From 1905 -9 he made more attenuated ‘spindle’ furniture influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. This was lighter than his previous furniture but more easily copied and soon sold by other furniture manufacturers leading to his bankruptcy in 1915 and he merged his firm with that of his brothers’ rival company to form the Stickley Manufacturing Company.

Frank Lloyd Wright began to design furniture in the 1880s and 1890s to fit in with his concept of organic architecture.  He would build in cabinets and shelving and seating units around fireplaces. He designed his first dining room table for his own house at Oak Park with tall spindle backed chairs inspired by Voysey, Mackintosh and Gimson.  He made his furniture from the same materials and same finishes as the buildings themselves to relating everything to create a whole look. He was a founder member of the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society in 1897 and took the Morris ideal and reinvented it for the 20th Century which included using the machine to create clean strong forms.

In Europe the ideal of Arts and Crafts was spreading.  In Germany it heavily influenced the work of Peter Behrens the architect and Walter Gropius who founded the Bauhaus art school.

Modern…

“I wanted up to date colours to move me out of the 70′s and thought I could do it on my own but the choices didn’t seem to work. Karen’s training pointed me in the right direction so that carpet and paint colours in different areas work together. I have the more modern look I wanted and have moved the colours of my home into the present.”
– Colleen, Epsom

Elegant and classy…

“We started with a tired, worn apartment and with Karen’s knowledge and guidance on colour, product and placement, ended up with a very elegant and classy result that we are very proud of.”
– Character CBD apartment, Auckland

The result we wanted…

“Karen’s professional advice and approach produced exactly the result we wanted. Our 1960′s home now has a contemporary look and still feels like home. The new kitchen looks clean and modern. She sourced excellent choices of appliances and lights. Her advice on the whole design process produced an excellent result and all of our friends have commented on how great it looks.”
– Larraine and David, Northcote