"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." A quote from William Morris which feels as relevant today as it did in the late 19th Century when his distinctive wallpapers, textiles, carpets, embroideries, tapestries, tiles and book designs were all the rage in Victorian England.
Born in Walthamstow, William Morris was opinionated on design from an early age, preferring the principles of craft to the new industrialised machine age. His belief in the value of tradition, skilled handcraft and the pleasure of the shared pursuit became not only his way of life but the inspiration of the Arts & Crafts movement.
He studied religion at Oxford but leaned increasingly towards art. And after a period of travelling with his contemporaries and becoming an artist, he established a company known today as Morris & Co for his interior designs and furnishings, where everything was to be created by hand, setting the company against the mainstream focus on industrialisation.
He spent his time exploring local parkland, forest and churches and had an affinity with landscapes and buildings. His first wallpapers were inspired by English gardens and hedgerows. To produce them he shunned modern industrial production methods and researched and revived historical printing and dyeing methods: possibly coining the phrase ‘start from scratch’.
In addition to his iconic designs, Morris was also well-known for his active political beliefs and writings. He set up Socialist clubs, went on marches and gave speeches on improving social justice, labour reform, class inequality, environmentalism, socialism and the preservation of artisanship.
If you aren’t familiar with the William Morris aesthetic, you would probably still recognise some of his work. Not only did he inspire many 20th-century designers, but his design continues to be a force today, with high profile collabs with H&M Home, Next, Warehouse and others. Most famously, the Victorian Liberty worked with William Morris, who designed some of Liberty’s most iconic prints.
In 2023 the William Morris aesthetic feels particularly fresh as we enter the spring season. The vibrant patterns and intricate detail fit with the current interior design shift towards maximalism, eclecticism and nostalgia. It’s sometimes referred to as clustercore.
Wonder what William Morris would have thought of that?
Either way, it’s a sign of his enduring popularity.
And to think it all started here in Walthamstow.
The William Morris Gallery in Lloyd Park is the only public gallery devoted to the artist. A place where he walked the botanical gardens and surrounding natural areas, which we’re so lucky to have around us. And we mustn’t neglect to explore and let ourselves be inspired by it. Perhaps on the way to the gallery tea room.
Estates East Team