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Arts & Crafts Style Guide

This was an influential movement of the late 19th century which attempted to re-establish the skills of craftsmanship threatened by mass production and industrialisation. Its main protagonist was the designer-cum-poet, William Morris who was inspired by writings of the art critic John Ruskin, notably his essay on 'The Nature of Gothic' from his book 'The Stones of Venice'. In which he combined praise of the Gothic architecture of northern Europe (including Venice) with a critique of 19th-century society, particularly the monotony of factory production and the deskilling of the individual worker, which destroyed any natural creativity. The solution lay in the medieval past and medieval architecture with its rich variety of ornament, embodying those individual craft skills being lost through the copying of standard forms. Morris sought to put Ruskin’s ideas into practice, by reviving medieval standards and methods of making artefacts, being true to materials, traditional constructional methods and function to the essence of design. In 1861 he set up his company Morris Marshall Faulkner & Co to promote these ideals and produce objects of beauty incorporating the craft skills that had begun to be lost.

Architecture was also to be reformed through traditional building crafts, the use of local materials, and be free of any imposed style. Function, need and simplicity (without spurious ornament) were to inform design, encapsulated in the work of Philip WebbRichard Lethaby and Charles Voysey. Although Morris’s decorative work was rich, intricate and colourful, he preferred plain and unadorned buildings; his favourite was Great Coxwell Barn which he described as "beautiful as a cathedral."

The movement declined in England after 1900 but was influential in Europe, mainly in Germany through the publication of Hermann Muthesius’s 'Das Englische Haus' and the creation of the Deutscher Werkbund (1907). It is also seen in the United States with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright (a founder member of the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society) and Greene & Greene in California.

What to look for in a Arts and Crafts building:

  • Clarity of form and structure
  • Variety of Materials
  • Asymmetry
  • Traditional construction
  • Craftmanship

Explore these galleries from the RIBA Collections illustrating the main features of Arts and Crafts.

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Millbank residence, Santa Monica, California

RIBA3165-42
NOTES: The architects are thought to be Meyer & Holler.

Design for Clobb Copse, Buckler's Hard, Beaulieu, Hampshire

RIBA3994
Scott, Mackay Hugh Baillie (1865-1945)

Design for Fouracre, West Green, Hampshire

RIBA4039
Newton, Ernest (1856-1922)

Waterlow Court, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London

RIBA4733
Scott, Mackay Hugh Baillie (1865-1945)
NOTES: This quadrangle was designed as cloistered housing for indigent women.

Terraced houses, Port Sunlight

RIBA5568
Talbot, John Joseph (d. 1902)

First Church of Christ Scientist, Daisy Bank Road, Victoria Park, Manchester

RIBA5932
Wood, Edgar (1860-1935)
NOTES: The building, a Grade I listed building, is no longer a church.

The Ferry Inn, Rosneath, Strathclyde

RIBA5945
Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869-1944)

Sandhouse, Witley, Surrey: the entrance hall decorated with the coloured frieze by Godfrey Blount

RIBA5990
Blount, Godfrey (1859-1910)
NOTES: Built for the politician Joseph King, this house has latterly been known as 'Kingwood'. Godfrey Blount, a friend of C. R. Ashbee, set up with his wife Ethel Hine, The Haslemere Peasant Industries in I896 to revive local craft traditions. This frieze was later removed.

Red House, Bexleyheath, London

RIBA6025
Webb, Philip Speakman (1831-1915)
NOTES: Philip Webb designed the building for his friend the artist William Morris, but Morris was responsible for the interior decoration.

Red House, Bexleyheath, London

RIBA6026
Webb, Philip Speakman (1831-1915)
NOTES: Philip Webb designed the building for his friend the artist William Morris, but Morris was responsible for the interior decoration.

Red House, Bexleyheath, London: the living room

RIBA6031
Webb, Philip Speakman (1831-1915)
NOTES: Philip Webb designed the building for his friend the artist William Morris, but Morris was responsible for the interior decoration.

Tigbourne Court, Witley, Surrey: a bargate stone wall

RIBA9620
Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869-1944)

Design for a small country house: the entrance elevation

RIBA12384
Theakston, Ernest George (1877-1943)

Preliminary design for the north front of Munstead Wood, Godalming

RIBA12889
Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869-1944)

Preliminary design for the south front of Munstead Wood, Godalming

RIBA13026
Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869-1944)
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