You know the Morris chair. You may not know its name, but you know it. The back reclines through neat engineering of a rod and knobs. Sort of. There are two large cushions, one back and one seat and there are usually fairly substantial armrests. And it’s made of invariably beautiful dark wood.
It is found in almost any Arts and Crafts home, I bet you had one in some older relatives home and I know many of you have one in your own home. It fits into Arts and Crafts, modern, contemporary, traditional — so many design styles. And one of the reasons for that is because it’s a wonderful home element which embodies the two most essential characteristics of good design. It’s useful, and it’s beautiful.
And this is where William Morris comes in. (1834-1896)
He was a furniture designer, wallpaper designer, and a sort-of late 1800’s male Martha Stewart. He was also a textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist. Associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, he was a significant contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. He was an icon in his day, and the popularity of his designs continues. The Morris chair is everywhere. And if you take a look at his wallpaper designs ( I’ll post some on the website), you will be amazed at how many you know, and how many of his textiles you have seen in high-end custom cushions, chair seats, and custom drapery.
He also made a most succinct statement: ‘ Do not have anything in your home which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’
Pause here. Just think about that for a moment. Isn’t that just the most succinct way of thinking about interior decoration? It’s just so simple and so clear and leads to the most effective way to get our houses in order. If some thing isn’t useful or beautiful, it’s a goner.
I wish I could live by this philosophy. I have no more room in the bookcases. And I know that every single book I have is useful AND beautiful. Even my old coverless English 101 textbooks.
And here’s what happened with the chair. It was designed by Ephraim Colman in rural Sussex, England. The design was improved on by the Morris firm’s chief designer and architect Phillip Webb, and went into production in the late 1860’s as the ‘Morris Chair’ It was produced until the firm closed in 1940. I don’t know what happened to Mr. Colman and his firm. The chair, after all, isn’t called the Colman chair. Rather sad.