Experiencing the Home: Troublesome Abundances
The Arts and Crafts Movement was hastily brought to an end over 100 years ago, with the rapid rise in manufactured consumer products. Despite the efforts of William Morris and his contemporaries to create social equality through the revival of individual craftsmanship of medieval origins and to consequently restore dignity to the everyday worker, they couldn’t stop the charge of consumerism in a capitalist society brought about by the mechanical development of the industrial revolution. A steep rise in the consumer class brought with it the mass-production of cheap, poorly designed manufactured goods. Whilst today’s society is now deeply embedded in consumerism and individualism, arguably much can still be learnt from Morris’ ideas and approach to design.
Morris’ philosophy for home design stood in stark contrast to many of his Victorian peers who would conspicuously fill their homes with consumer products in order to parade their wealth. Morris believed that the accumulation of useless objects and needless ornamentation had dulled the individual’s capacity to appreciate and value beauty, and he encouraged homeowners to free their houses of conventional comforts that are of no real comfort, and troublesome abundances that are forever in the way1. Yet despite the passing of a century, we often choose to live like our Victorian counterparts, consuming what we can, yet ending up with little that is unique or of individual value. On this matter Morris had one golden rule; have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful 2. Take furniture as an example. Rather than accept the shoddiness of machine-built furniture for the masses, Morris encouraged populating homes with single, handcrafted pieces of simple construction, unique in detailing, in order to create honest, unpretentious and homely furniture. A table for instance was considered not of practical use alone but also as an ornament of beauty.
When considering the amount of superfluous objects the average Briton acquires, the way we live could no doubt benefit from applying some of the teachings of Morris and his approach to beauty, creating spaces or objects that are not only practical but are inherently appealing. To resist the persuasive pull of our ‘all you can obtain’ consumer culture and welcome back a more considered approach would surely result in a home more considered, more honest, more beautiful?
1. / 2. William Morris (1882). Hopes and Fears for Art, Five Lectures Delivered in Birmingham, London and Nottingham. Ellis & White.