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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

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

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

Scott, Mackay Hugh Baillie (1865-1945)

Design for Fouracre, West Green, Hampshire

Newton, Ernest (1856-1922)

Terraced houses, Port Sunlight

Talbot, John Joseph (d. 1902)

The Ferry Inn, Rosneath, Strathclyde

Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869-1944)

Red House, Bexleyheath, London

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

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.

Design for a small country house: the entrance elevation

Theakston, Ernest George (1877-1943)

Preliminary design for the north front of Munstead Wood, Godalming

Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869-1944)

Preliminary design for the south front of Munstead Wood, Godalming

Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869-1944)

The Barn, Exmouth, Devon, before the fire of 1905

Prior, Edward Schroeder (1852-1932)

Cock Rock, Croyde: the entrance and gate to shore

Hill, Oliver (1887-1968)

Deanery Garden, Sonning, Berkshire: the Fountain Court

Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869-1944)

Mary Ward Settlement (Passmore Edwards Settlement Buildings), Tavistock Place, London

Smith & Brewer
SOURCE: Building News, vol. 69, 1895 Aug. 9, after p. 208 NOTES: The Mary Ward Settlement (originally known as the Passmore Edwards Settlement Buildings) was founded in the 1890s by Mary Augusta Ward under the financial patronage of John Passmore Edwards. It aimed to provide facilities to 'improve the the religious, moral, intellectual or physical well-being of the people of London' and was also notable for housing the first fully equipped classrooms for children with disabilities.

Design for a proposed church

Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869-1944)