Complex, intricate and quintessentially English, William Morris’ designs are experiencing a revival in the exclusive boutiques and close-knit circles of those in the know
Unassuming yet exquisite,William Morris is remarkably easy to live with. Perhaps it’s because the 19th century designer took his inspiration directly from nature that his work has an enduring appeal. Nonetheless, what is clear is that this much celebrated member of the Arts & Crafts movement and Pre-Raphaelites is back in the affections of discerning homeowners who hanker for pattern which doesn’t quickly date or overwhelm.
OUT OF NEUTRAL
There is evidence that interiors are moving away from the neutral look and becoming much more vibrant and varied. RosalieWhitehead, consultant at One Off Interiors, says: “Interiors in Birmingham are more varied than usual this year, with bright contrast colours and feature wallpapers still proving popular.”Whitehead adds thatWilliam Morris designs, while they don’t currently show mass appeal in the area, are being increasingly requested in more upmarket areas such as in Bourneville, “with its listed buildings dating from the early 20th Century.”
Lindsy Ellis, creative director atWicked Wallpaper, agrees that there is a shift towards bold statements and patterns: “Over the last few years, the fashion has been painted walls in neutral shades. This has now completely shifted with bright colours and statement walls being the trend,” she says.
“People want to liven up their rooms, and while painting or wallpapering all of the walls may be a step too far, they can create a feature wall with wow factor,” added Ellis. “Choosing bold patterns really catches the eye and gives your room a unique feel.”
Along with the current trend for more bright and vibrant interiors, retro themes have been in style for a number of seasons now, and they aren’t going away. Gill Nono is founder of the luxury wallpaper and fabrics firm Nono and her new Deco Fabulous collection echoes the current trend for art deco. She says: “I think consumers have a genuine fondness for the irreverent luxury and classic symmetry of the 1920s, as it brings a feeling of decadence to the home.”
Alison Cork, home expert and TV presenter, agrees that there has been an increase in the call for retro and vintage styles but not just from the 20s. “I think the current trends are for vintage inspired patterns and colours, especially from the 50s and 70s,” she says. “They are somehow both stylish and reassuring.”
Cork added that she is also a fan of Morris. “I love the detail of William Morris designs, and their strong graphic quality,” she said. “I think they work especially well on wallpaper.” With the retro revolution in full swing, it’s only a matter of time before more of the most stylish Birmingham homes embrace the enduring beauty of William Morris.
FOLLOW THE PATTERN
You might consider Morris’ floral, repeating wallpapers and textiles to be a bit of a ‘safe’ choice for your interior when compared with some of the more edgy, mid-century options on the market. But Morris’ delicately interwoven designs can make a surprisingly strong statement, crucially, without becoming irritating over time. They can be particularly striking when paired with an otherwise clean and streamlined interior.
For many people, pattern is a bold choice, especially if they’ve become accustomed to the minimalist look. Cork advises those with less experience with detailed designs to start small and allow pattern into their homes in a carefully controlled manner. “Most people are pattern phobic, as they fear the complexity of more than one colour or shape,” she says. “But restricting pattern to one wall, or a set of cushions, or a rug, is a great way incorporating pattern in a controlled way.”
The expert consensus seems to be to welcome new designs into your home, but to introduce them gently in the form of a feature wall or accessory if you’re a pattern virgin. But how did our fashion forbears use pattern in their interiors, and can we learn anything from their approach?
Helen Bratt-Wyton, house steward at Wightwick Manor,Wolverhampton, believes we can learn a huge amount about how to use patterns from the experiences of Theodore Mander in the late 19th century. The original owner ofWightwick Manor – now a National Trust property – Mander opted to use Morris’ designs after attending a lecture by OscarWilde. “Theodore was a successful local industrialist, and his family were among the cultivated uppermiddle classes,” she says. “He knew that a way to express his family’s exalted position in society was through artistic expression in his own home. “We know from his own diaries that Theodore attended Oscar Wilde’s lecture on ‘The House Beautiful’ in March 1884, which was intended to bring Morris’ ideals to a wider audience.” Wilde’s lecture instilled in his audience the importance of furnishing their homes with beautiful, hand-crafted things, with an emphasis on mixing old with new, and embracing a variety of high quality designs and materials. “Morris insisted that everything which came from his company was hand-crafted, and this made his products extremely expensive,” she says. “Theodore, who had money to spend, decided that the best way to make a statement was to optfor Morris designs throughout his home.” But they didn’t employ anyone to create their ‘look’. Just like we might do today, Mander visited the Morris shop with his wife and they picked out everything themselves.
Today, the rich interiors at Wightwick Manor include a wealth of original William Morris wallpapers, fabrics and furnishings, offering Morris fans a fascinating insight into how his early adopters would have applied his patterns and designs, namely, with abandon. But the influence of William Morris and his friends did not stop with wallpaper and textiles. We can also learn about how to adorn our windows from his Birmingham-born friend, Edward Burne-Jones.
A close friend of William Morris, Burne-Jones was born in Bennett’s Hill, Birmingham, and played a major part in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Burne-Jones was closely involved with the rejuvenation of the tradition of stained glass, creating some of the most stunningly decorated windows in the world.
If you’d like to find out more about the Pre- Raphaelites, including William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a huge amount to offer. It boasts the largest public collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, including drawings, watercolours, prints, sketchbooks, paintings and designs. You can also find some of Burne-Jones’ most celebrated stained glass windows at St Philips Cathedral in Birmingham City Centre, where Burne-Jones himself was baptised.
Whether you choose to adorn your home in Morris’ finest, hand-made wallpapers and textiles from top to toe like Theodore Mander, or simply to add some Burne-Jones-inspired stained glass to your windows, keep your mind open to the Pre- Raphaelites. You’ll be buying into a powerful legacy and echoing the choices of some of the most stylish Brummies in history.