Thursday, February 21, 2008

William Morris Interior on a Budget

I have very particular taste, and I can sum it up in two words: William Morris. When it comes to interiors, it seems he's a kindred spirit.

So I thought I'd throw out a few suggestions on how to decorate a William Morris-esque Arts & Crafts interior on a budget. The irony of this suggestion first, it may seem like an oxymoron. After all, Morris' designs were only affordable to the rich during his lifetime. And the Arts & Crafts philosophy is to focus on the process, not the product...i.e. no mass-produced items. Ah modern society it's quite hard to affordably decorate an entire home with handmade items, (although that could be the first suggestion...check for beautiful handmade items for your home!) so by necessity these suggestions don't all mirror the philosophy of Topsy himself, but at least I can give some suggestions on how to achieve the look!

And I've already mentioned previously, I love European William Morris-era A&C decor, not the Americanized 20th-century version (which is also lovely, just not all for me)

Starting from the walls in....Sadly, I've misplaced the book that has the entirety of the quote from which "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" comes. However, in this extended quote, Morris talks about the supreme way to decorate a house, and lists what were, to him, the proper coverings for walls. He was thoroughly against the heavy, thickly draped and dark interiors so popular in Victorian times. Surprisingly for someone who seemed to love color so much, Morris also seemed to have a fondness for clean white walls, perhaps as a response to the dark and drear status quo in Victorian homes. So to begin a Morris room, white walls are a thoroughly acceptable option. Of course, there are also the stunning organic wallpapers Morris created (although I haven't had much luck finding sources for these wallpaper styles "on a budget"), or murals. The Pre-Raphaelites, and William Morris, seemed to view any flat object as a potential canvas, and the walls were no exception. Plenty of books are available on the topic of painting murals and Tromp l'oeil. And don't forget the ceiling! If you own your own home and are able to work on a large area, painting a repeating pattern on the ceiling is a very Morris-esque thing to do as well.

To simulate the gorgeous look of stained glass, so very common among the Morris & Co. circuit of friends, at a cheaper price, try one of the amazing range of stained glass full-window clings available on the market today. They can be found on ebay, or we purchased our Artscape Magnolia patterned clings from Home Depot. They run approximately $20 per poster-size sheet, and although the idea of clings may seem incredibly cheesy in theory, they are very nice. The photo below does not exaggerate their appeal.

One thing I've also noticed about William Morris interiors is that he knew exactly how to walk the line between mixing patterns appealingly and appallingly. Sometimes several beautiful tapestry-like patterns were used in the same room, on rugs, chairs, wall-hangings, and other cloth items. So don't be afraid to mix and match patterns in your room, but do so with a very cautious eye. Matching colors and sets of colors on several patterns can be a safe bet. My fiancee and I got our living room rug at Value City, and with a little searching, it can be pretty easy to find a richly colored rug reminiscent of William Morris' patterns at most department stores. Heck, there's even a rug actually called the William Morris at Target for $330, and you can find rugs for far cheaper too. Here, as I said, the philosophy of anti-mass production butts heads with the reality of decor on a budget. But in any case, William Morris had a great admiration for beautiful rugs. He created one himself, and had a gigantic rug displayed on a full wall and half the ceiling of a room in his house.

However, it's important not to get too carried away with the draperies either. The traditional Victorian home was ridiculous in the amount of cloth that covered every surface. There were a million layers on the windows, blocking out the light. But beyond that, there were also covers for benches, doorways, even painting frames. William Morris reserved fabric on the walls for mostly hanging tapestries.

The standard Victorian home was also extremely cluttered as well as extremely dark. It should come as no surprise that the William Morris home has few extraneous tchochkes. Remember the "Golden Rule" of useful beauty and beautiful necessities! Although, ironically, the starkness of a William Morris room is rather relative, and comes nowhere near the minimalist simplicity of modernism. In other words, a Morris home was shocking in its day for its simplicity, but today, looking at a Morris home interior, there were still plenty of interesting things to look at.

One interesting thing to collect to help with the Morris interior is blue and white china. Both William Morris and Rossetti seemed to have a great appreciation for blue and white china, and they both showcased their collection. And of course working on a budget, it's quite easy to find lovely blue and white china at thrift stores, antique sales, and garage sales.

Purchase a cheap and sturdy table and weather it. William Morris was fond of things with a bit of wear to them. He believed in the beauty of buildings and objects that only came with age. The tapestry room at Kelmscott contained tapestries that he considered to be no great artistic feat, but with age they had faded to quite pleasing colors. Morris also was a great voice in the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings. So if an object has a bit of wear to it, all the more Morris-ean it is! (Yes, I just created that word)

Finally, feel free to pull a "Ned & Topsy." If your decor is plain and boring, have a friend with some artistic talent paint it up with beautiful scenes from myth and lore! When Ned (Burne-Jones) and Topsy (Morris) first moved into a set of rooms together, no modern furniture satisfied them, so Morris commissioned a set of sturdy and simplistic furniture be made, and the group of friends set to work painting them all over with scenes from lore. Nothing, to me, says PRB-era Arts and Crafts like furniture painted with storytelling scenes.
Above all, a William Morris Arts & Crafts Home is a product of love. As Pamela Todd quotes John Mackail as saying (in her wonderful book The Pre-Raphaelites at Home)... "with him, the love of things had all the romance and passion that is generally associated with the love of persons only." Make your home reflect your love, and you'll be living the William Morris life!

Please feel free to comment with more thoughts, suggestions, links, etc. on how to decorate the William Morris way!


Anonymous said...

That painted chair was my favorite thing in the Waking Dreams exhibit.

I think the success in decorating in this fashion is to not try a complete "reproduction" but to take bits and pieces that work for you, your space and modern lifestyle. Unless of course you have your own Kelmscott, then wallpaper away!

Grace said...

(gasp) You saw it in person? (kicking self) I can't believe I missed that exhibit!!!

And I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts on picking and choosing. Gives it more "heart" :)

Anonymous said...

Oh yes. The chair was incredible. The second one was worn and the image barely visible if memory serves. My other favs was the Burne Jones pieces...a few stained glass panels and line drawings (cartoons) for the stained glass.

Grace said...

I think that, although it is partially sad because it means less preservation, it's also kind of endearing that the PRB didn't always know how to paint objects in order to keep the colors and paints bright on them. The idea that their paintings are fading over time kind of matches Morris' philosophy on the beauty of age.

Did they have the stained glass backlit? Dear me, I want to go back in time and see it! I didn't even know Tess then, so we could have walked by each other at the museum and never known, if I had gone :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, the stained glass was backlit and they also had pottery, jewelry in display cases and nicely done. This exhibit is back in Delaware, its permanent home I do believe.

We'll just have to make the trek to Canada to see that PRB exhibit next year and we'll get to see Waterhouse, who was sadly MIA from Waking Dreams.

Grace said...

Not surprising that Waterhouse was seems England holds on to him with a pretty tight fist. Which is why, OMG YES we need to go to that exhibit!

Anonymous said...

okay I'm hooked on your blog! All I needed was one more thing to do ;->

Suslyn referred from LibraryThing

Grace said...'s a good thing I don't post quite as often anymore then. ;)

Illuminated Perfume said...

I feel like I've found a kindred spirit! Beautiful blog and inspiration.

Grace said...

Roxana thank you so much! I need to start posting updates again! Your illuminated fragrances fascinate me too. :)