The practical beauty of Arts and Crafts

Newsletter article, June 2013

Sussex chair“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be use useful or believe to be beautiful.”  So said William Morris, one of the most prominent names in the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain.

And how right he was! We too believe furniture should be both beautiful and practical, which is why we love the simple yet beautiful pieces of furniture created during the Arts and Crafts period. Pieces such as the famous Sussex chair.

Both elegant and practical, the Sussex chair  was made in ebonised beech with slender turned legs and a simple rush seat.

Lightweight and easy to move around, it was ideal for smaller budgets and houses.

It’s a great example of designing something beautiful and practical for a specific audience and space.     

How to spot Arts and Crafts furniture

Pieces are handmade, usually in oak, and are simple forms that celebrate the beauty of the natural material. 

Pieces have little embellishment but typical motifs include upside down hearts, stylised flowers, and Celtic symbols. Some furniture may have worked copper panels or handles in copper, and chairs have rush or leather seats.

A very potted history of Arts and Crafts

The movement began in Britain around 1880 and was born out of concern for how industrialisation was affecting design, traditional skills, and the lives of ordinary people. It quickly spread throughout Europe and America, embracing all areas of design from furniture-making, textiles, and ceramics, to architecture. And there are still many great examples to be seen.

William Morris, is perhaps the best-known figure in the movement and with good reason. Poet, artist, designer of wallpapers, textiles, and furniture, Morris placed great value on work, the joy of craftsmanship and the natural beauty of materials.

Where to see Arts and Crafts

The best place to see Arts and Crafts furniture is in the space it was intended for.  Two of the best places to do that are Standen Manor, near East Grinstead in East Sussex and Red House, Bexleyheath, both designed by Philip Webb.  

Front view of StandenStanden’s interior is a treasure trove of Arts and Crafts tapestries, textiles, objects, and furniture, combined with more ordinary Victorian pieces.  Look out for the ‘Morris’ reclining chair, modified by Webb in the 1860s from a model he’d seen at Herstmonceux.

The best thing about Standen is that it isn’t like a museum: it feels very alive and lived in. Managed by the National Trust, there's also lots of seasonal events from open-air theatre to children's craft workshops.  It’s well worth a visit.  Take a look at the website for details

Red House



Red House is also now managed by The National Trust. Morris commissioned Webb to design it for him as a family home and its rooms give a unique view of his earliest designs and decorative schemes. You’ll see plenty of original features and furniture by Morris and Webb as well as stained glass and paintings by Burne-Jones. 

Visit for information.





Gordon Russell Exhibition at Millinery WorksThe Millinery Works in central London exhibits and sells antique Arts and Crafts furniture.  Tucked away in what was originally a terraced house in Islington, it’s home to a large collection of furniture as well as glass and ceramic pieces, and holds regular art and furniture exhibitions.  Visit for more information.

It’s a must for any lover of Arts and Crafts!



Kelmscott Manor

And if you fancy a trip further afield, visit Morris’s Oxfordshire home, Kelmscott Manor. This beautiful 15th century house has a fabulous collection of furniture, together with textiles, paintings, carpets ceramics, and metalwork by Morris, his family, and artist friends such as Burne-Jones, Rossetti, and Webb.  Visit for information.

Happy Arts and Crafts hunting!



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