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

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: the living room

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

Lutyens, Sir Edwin Landseer (1869-1944)

Design for Hill Close, Studland Bay, Studland, Dorset

Voysey, Charles Francis Annesley (1857-1941)

Design for a wallpaper showing stylized birds and poppies

Voysey, Charles Francis Annesley (1857-1941)

Fox Steep, Crazies Hill, Wargrave, Berkshire

Hill, Oliver (1887-1968)
NOTES: An old inn, The Foxes, was converted by Oliver Hill into a house for Donald van den Bergh.

Design for a house for Dr Hector Munro, Barkerend Road, Bradford

Parker, Richard Barry, (1867-1947)

Downpipe with rope or cable motif

Lethaby, William Richard (1857-1931)

Gate for New Place, Haslemere, Surrey, executed by W B Reynolds of 7b Old Town, Clapham, London

Voysey, Charles Francis Annesley (1857-1941)
NOTES: New Place house and garden (originally called Hurtmore) were designed by Voysey in 1897 for the publisher A. M. M. Stedman, who later changed his name to Algernon Methuen. Additions in 1899 included a lodge, a gardener's cottage, stables and a summer-house, while in 1901 Voysey designed new gates and laid out an additional formal garden. A year later the rose-garden was redesigned by Gertrude Jekyll.

Designs for a new house, Woodbrook, Alderley Edge, Cheshire, for Albert Heyworth, Esq.: ground plan and three elevations (design 1)

Voysey, Charles Francis Annesley (1857-1941)
NOTES: Neither of Voysey's designs for a new house were carried out. Instead he prepared and executed designs for alterations and additions to the existing house.

All Saints, Brockhampton-by-Ross, Herefordshire

Lethaby, William Richard (1857-1931)
NOTES: See RIBA105407 for a black and white version of this image.

St Andrew's Church, Roker, Sunderland: the chancel and choir with tapestry by Burne-Jones

Prior, Edward Schroeder (1852-1932)
NOTES: The church was designed by E. S. Prior and A. Randall Wells, who had been Lethaby's Clerk of Works at Brockhampton (1904). Many of the fixtures and fittings are by Ernest Gimson, notably the oak panelled chancel and the oak choir stalls. The just glimpsed ceiling of the chancel wasn't painted until 1927, by Macdonald Gill, restored 1967 by Maurice Partland. The design of its theme is the Creation. The tapestry depicts the visit of the Three Wise Men and is a copy of a painting by Burne-Jone made by Morris & Co for the church.

St Andrew's Church, Roker, Sunderland: detail of wrought-iron cross made by Alfred Bucknell

Prior, Edward Schroeder (1852-1932)
NOTES: The church was designed by E. S. Prior and A. Randall Wells, who had been Lethaby's Clerk of Works at Brockhampton (1904). Many of the fixtures and fittings are by Ernest Gimson, notably the oak panelled chancel and the oak choir stalls. This cross was designed by Gimson and made by his blacksmith Alfred Bucknell in his Sapperton workshop.