‘Whatever you do, think firstly of your walls’ William Morris

The Arts and Crafts movement is having a bit of a moment according to spring issues of home design magazines.

House & Garden features a London Edwardian home decorated by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s interior designer, Ben Pentreath and this and his own London flat are clad in William Morris wallpapers.

Emery Walker’s drawing room. Picture by Paul Highnam

Morris, who lived in Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, designed wallpapers with stylised fruit, flowers and foliage motifs expressing his love of nature, and his early designs also reflect his interest in medieval sources at the time.

They gained popularity in the 1880s and 1890s, but Morris’s work continues to inspire designers and decorators, as Sally Price at Insider Dealings, Chiswick High Road, confirms, ‘We have certainly noticed that Arts and Crafts is having a revival.  The hugely popular Ben Pentreath has recoloured Morris wallpapers which are very smart and relevant to today’s interiors. We also have various suppliers of bespoke wallpapers including some beautiful Arts and Crafts designs for those who want something a bit special’.

Could the current resurgence of this aesthetic, originally a response to industrialisation, be a reaction to digitisation and the pace of the modern world?

Wallflower, a rare design in Emery Walker’s House

William Morris extolled the virtues of the medieval guild producing good quality materials by skilled craftsmen and women. He translated these social and aesthetic aspirations to his wallpapers, rejecting roller printing which had been used increasingly since the 1840s,  in favour of hand-cut wallpaper blocks printed individually. Each part of this time-consuming process (only one colour could be printed a day, as it had to dry before the next block was applied) necessitated a team of skilled artisans.

Just across the W6/4 border is one of the most authentic Arts & Crafts interiors in the country, where small tours of just four visitors at a time are shown round Number 7 Hammersmith Terrace, the home of Emery Walker, a key member of the Arts and Crafts movement, and close friend of the Morris family.  This friendship is reflected on the walls which are decorated in original Morris & Co hand-blocked wallpapers.

Willow is in the dining room of Emery Walker’s house

Almost all of the six wallpapers you can now see at Emery Walker’s House are designs from William Morris’s most prolific creative period – the 1870s and 1880s.

Some designs at 7 Hammersmith Terrace are instantly recognisable. The Willow Bough, for instance, is perhaps best known for engulfing Mary Killen and Giles Wood as they watch TV on Gogglebox. Mary bought the wallpaper after she had written a feature on top taste brokers in London, and discovered a common thread had been that all ten had one room in their house decorated in the same William Morris pattern. “I immediately ordered it,” although Mary does admit, it does “make us look a bit obsessive.”

The Willow Bough has a tendency to take over – at Emery Walker’s House the pattern runs rampant up three flights of walls along the staircase as if seeking the sun at the top of the narrow, terraced house.

Emery Walker’s House reopens on May 29th for small, guided tours, prebooking essential at Emerywalker.org.uk.

Or discover more about Morris wallpaper with The Emery Walker’s House online talk this Saturday:

May 8th at 3pm Virtual Talk:  William Morris Wallpapers

A master-colourist, William Morris was a one-man pattern-making phenomenon, blessed, according to his daughter May, with a ‘god-given gift’ for creating harmonious and beautiful designs.  And his wallpapers were not only the most commercially successful aspect of his company’s work, they also helped fulfil his ambition to bring art and beauty into ordinary homes.  This lecture explores the history and production of Morris’s work within the wider context of Victorian wallpaper design.

Joanna Banham is a freelance curator, lecturer and writer, and was formerly Head of Adult Programmes at the Victoria and Albert Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and the Royal Academy of Arts.

Book online here.

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