Arts and Crafts was a design remedy for mass produced home goods

by Patricia Cove
Posted 2/11/21

One thing you can say for sure is that once the pendulum swings one way, it will surely swing back the other. So it was in the 1880s and 90s that designers and architects, hating the mass production of the Industrial Revolution, staged a revolt of their own and laid the foundations for the English Arts and Crafts movement.

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Arts and Crafts was a design remedy for mass produced home goods

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One thing you can say for sure is that once the pendulum swings one way, it will surely swing back the other. So it was in the 1880s and 90s that designers and architects, hating the mass production of the Industrial Revolution, staged a revolt of their own and laid the foundations for the English Arts and Crafts movement.

The Arts and Crafts movement also came as a result of other factors. The mass production of furnishings resulted in a mass-produced mediocrity. Sound familiar? And another was a belief in the need for stylistic unity in architecture and decoration. The architects C.R .Ashbee and W.R. Lethaby, along with the poet, artist and designers William Morris and C.F.A. Voysey, came together to form a “modern,” ahistorical style, incorporating asymmetry, unrelieved woodwork and unpretentious furnishings.

Shops such as Liberty of London and Heals attracted large numbers of people interested in these simpler styles and promoted the notion that the use of a few well- designed pieces was preferable to the use of unattractive mass-produced items.

William Morris’ free flowing nature patterns in fabrics and wallcoverings became the perfect interior finishes to the Arts and Crafts architecture. Gustav Stickly founded his “Craftsman Workshop,” which designed and built the Mission Style case goods. Frank Lloyd Wright, the more contemporary architect of the Arts and Crafts movement, adopted the so- called Prairie School style, that used a clean, geometric design in furniture, carpets and stained glass.

To own an authentic architect-designed home during this period provided a quiet panache, along with warm and nature-inspired surroundings. In the late 1990s I was fortunate enough to meet a wonderful woman who loved the Arts and Crafts style, but had purchased a very nondescript split level home along Germantown Avenue. She knew she wanted to create something different.

We could not turn a split level into a delicate Federal, but perhaps a neo-Colonial? No, that wasn’t right either. As we put our heads together, the idea became crystal clear. This house had the perfect bones to be transformed into an Arts and Crafts style residence. Thus began one of the most pleasant design journeys in my career.

Bringing in Stan Runyan and Associates, who completed a meticulous exterior transformation, I worked with the owner in the redesign of the interior, which included custom, built-in cabinets, a new dining room and butler’s pantry, a guest bath and a master bath. All the spaces were coordinated through the use of cherry moldings, trims and accent pieces. A geometric frieze was selected for the living and dining rooms, and a traditional Arts and Crafts color palette was chosen for the walls and ceilings combined with a selection of William Morris wallcoverings and fabrics chosen for use on all the upholstery pieces.  Even the tiles of the kitchen backsplash sported an acorn and oak leaf pattern adding the finishing touch to the newly designed and expanded kitchen that, thanks to Runyan and his team, provided beautiful views to the newly landscaped gardens.

The popularity of the Arts and Crafts style has remained fairly consistent even since its heyday. A true purist seeking to restore or recreate the style can still find beautiful fabrics and wallpapers, decorated with foliage, animals and birds, and hand made furnishings in the Mission or Shaker styles from Stickley or Baker Furniture.

Looking back to the inception of the style, it occurred at a time when people were seeking a respite from mass production and simpler, more peaceful surroundings. Does this give us any clue as to where we are headed in design today? Let’s continue to find out together.

Patricia Cove is Principal of Architectural Interiors and Design in Chestnut Hill and can be reached through her web site: www.patriciacove.com.

By Design

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