Talking Furniture with Max Donnelly at Emery Walker’s house

Images above: Max Donnelly inside Emery Walker’s house

“How extraordinary to have objects made by craftspeople who knew the owner”

The Emery Walker House in Hammersmith Terrace houses a collection of Arts and Craft furniture and furnishings second to none. In the last in the current series of talks organised by Emery Walker’s House Trust, on Wednesday 27 April, Max Donnelly FSA, the Curator of Furniture and Woodwork 1800-1900 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, will be talking about the furniture at Emery Walker’s house.

Max, who is also a trustee of the house, talks here to Lucinda MacPherson for The Chiswick Calendar about the special provenance of this local Arts and Craft’s home’s furnishings and ways to help small house museums without paying tax.

What’s your favourite part of the house?

“I love all of it! It’s just such a perfect, immersive experience, and what makes it so appealing and unique is the provenance of the furniture and art works and the eclectic mix.”

Anything of special interest?

“I struggle to pin point things of particular interest, but regarding the furniture, we were so delighted to be able to get two key pieces that had left the house some time ago – the bed designed by Sidney Barnsley (pictured above) and mahogany etagere designed by Philip Webb and made by Morris & Company (pictured below).

“That was the first time I’d arranged an acceptance in lieu of tax, an incredibly complex business, but meant that we could get these two pieces for the house, because of the terms which included access. The Victoria & Albert Museum acquired them to then lend them on long term loan to the house.

“These two pieces of furniture mean a lot to me because of all the paperwork and because it was such a nice way of reuniting the objects back to where they belonged. Christopher (Wilk) was determined that they should be brought back.  John Brandon-Jones was the architect and when his widow died the objects were left to Emery Walker’s House. It’s a great scheme that you can find out more at the Art Council website and it’s a great way for public institutions who would struggle to raise funds for them.”

Above: Everything is carefully thought through, every measurement and every proportion. The two lovely cabinets that sit either side of the fireplace.

Who are the main furniture designers in this house?

“The Philip Webb furniture has an amazing provenance, as Walker was the executor and chief beneficiary of his will, so there are many of his pieces in the house. Webb is the father of Arts and Crafts furniture. Morris provided the conditions and was a close friend of Philip Webb, but Morris himself only designed one or two pieces of furniture, so Webb is the King of Arts & Crafts furniture and is so influential. He is so subtle and functional, it’s quite hard to pin down his style but it’s the understated quality which you see in the plan chest.

“The hanging cupboard above the bed, it’s the detailing. It’s quite shallow and elegant and then you have the lovely way the brackets dip in. These objects are beautiful in their own right, but things like the original labels showing they came direct from Webb’s office, give them that extra glow and the fact that they have not been in anybody else’s house.”

Images above: A desk designed by Ernest Barnsley (right) is another favourite, it’s in a room with quite sombre colouring so the beautiful light-coloured walnut wood really jumps out at you.

“When people try and buy Arts and Crafts interiors they buy lots of arts and crafts material and that looks great. However, what is amazing and more authentic and surprising in the Emery Walker’s House interiors, and usually you only see this in vintage photographs, you see that  people had arts and crafts objects mingled with things their Granny had left them.

“It’s lovely to see antiques that they bought for their aesthetic qualities, all these elements coming together creating an interior that’s almost completely gone now, except for a place like this. You can’t recreate it, which is what makes it so special.

“And what has a particular resonance is that the Arts and Crafts designers were drawn to antiques that have the same qualities they were looking for. They analysed old chests and chairs, for instance, and drew ideas from them, which is why everything here works together so well. It all has the same spirit and ideas of having  tactile qualities, an appreciation of the past and craftsmanship.

A Night At Hammersmith Terrace

“The objects all relate to each other to some extent. How extraordinary to have objects made by craftspeople who knew the owner, still displayed alongside other Arts and Crafts items in their original setting. Something special is going on and when you enter these rooms you feel like you are walking in on a conversation. It puts me in mind of the film Night at the Museum, but in this case it’s more Night at Hammersmith Terrace!

Join the conversation about this unique collection of furniture at a live, interactive talk, Furniture and the Arts and Crafts home, given by Max Donnelly on 27 April at 6.00pm, the last in this series of monthly events via Zoom organised by Emery Walker’s House Trust. Entry is by donation. Please pre-book via The house’s unique Arts & Crafts interior is open for pre-booked guided tours.

All photographs by Lucinda MacPherson

You can find out more about gifting items in lieu of tax on the Arts Council website.

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