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William Morris
by [?]

That being so, we should go back to medieval times for our patterns.

A study of the best household decorations of the Fifteenth Century showed that all the furniture used then was made to fit a certain apartment, and with a definite purpose in view.

Of course it was made by hand, and the loving marks of the tool were upon it. It was made as good and strong and durable as it could be made. Floors and walls were of mosaic or polished wood, and these were partly covered by beautifully woven rugs, skins and tapestries. The ceilings were sometimes ornamented with pictures painted in harmony with the use for which the room was designed. Certainly there were no chromos and the pictures were few and these of the best, for the age was essentially a critical one.

A modest circular was issued in which the fact was made known that “a company of historical artists will use their talents in home decoration.”

Dealers into whose hands this circular fell, smiled in derision, and the announcement made no splash in England’s artistic waters. But the leaven was at work which was bound to cause a revolution in the tastes of fifty million people.

Most of our best moves are accidents, and every good thing begins as something else. In the beginning there was no expectation of building up a trade or making a financial success of the business. The idea was simply that the eight young men who composed the band were to use their influence in helping one another to secure commissions, and corroborate the views of doubting patrons as to what was art and what not. In other words, they were to stand by one another.

Ford Madox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Arthur Hughes were painters; Philip Webb an architect; Peter Paul Marshall a landscape-gardener and engineer; Charles Joseph Faulkner, an Oxford don, was a designer, and William Morris was an all-round artist–ready to turn his hand to anything.

These men undertook to furnish a home from garret to cellar in an artistic way.

Work came, and each set himself to help all the others. From simply supplying designs for furniture, rugs, carpets and wall-paper they began to manufacture these things, simply because they could not buy or get others to make the things they desired.

Morris undertook the entire executive charge of affairs, and mastered the details of half a dozen trades in order that he might intelligently conduct the business. The one motto of the firm was, “Not how cheap, but how good.” They insisted that housekeeping must be simplified, and that we should have fewer things and have them better. To this end single pieces of furniture were made, and all sets of furniture discarded. I have seen several houses furnished entirely by William Morris, and the first thing that impressed me was the sparsity of things. Instead of a dozen pictures in a room, there were two or three–one on an easel and one or two on the walls. Gilt frames were abandoned almost entirely, and dark-stained woods were used instead. Wide fireplaces were introduced and mantels of solid oak. For upholstery, leather covering was commonly used instead of cloth. Carpets were laid in strips, not tacked down to stay, and rugs were laid so as to show a goodly glimpse of hardwood floor; and in the dining-room a large, round table was placed instead of a right-angled square one. This table was not covered with a tablecloth; instead, mats and doilies were used here and there. To cover a table entirely with a cloth or spread was pretty good proof that the piece of furniture was cheap and shabby; so in no William Morris library or dining-room would you find a table entirely covered. The round dining-table is in very general use now, but few people realize how its plainness was scouted when William Morris first introduced it.

One piece of William Morris furniture has become decidedly popular in America, and that is the “Morris Chair.” The first chair of this pattern was made entirely by the hands of the master. It was built by a man who understood anatomy, unlike most chairs and all church pews. It was also strong, durable, ornamental, and by a simple device the back could be adjusted so as to fit a man’s every mood.