The Arts and Crafts movement is a historical style of design that began in the United Kingdom around the 1860s before expanding into the United States around 1890. Based on the philosophies of A.W.N. Pugin and John Ruskin, the Arts and Crafts movement was a response to growing industrialization. Proponents—especially William Morris, who is widely considered to be the figurehead of the movement—argued for the importance of handcrafted goods, especially those products in one’s home.
While one of the most important periods in human history for the advancements of technology, the Industrial Revolution wasn’t without its critics. The era that began around 1760 saw the increased ability for goods and services to be created through mechanical means. Although this made goods cheaper and more widely available, products moved from being handmade in small shops and homes to a mechanical process in large factories.
Critics were often influenced by philosopher Karl Marx who wrote about the growing struggles between economic classes which became more obvious as the Industrial Revolution split society between the workers in factories and those wealthy enough not to work in them or who owned the companies and factories that employed the workers.
One critic who was influenced by Marx and John Ruskin—a design and art critic who advocated for handcrafted goods inspired by nature and Gothic architecture—was William Morris. Known as a key figurehead of the Arts and Crafts movement, Morris believed that goods produced by machines lacked taste. He advocated for handcrafted goods, especially those that one would find in their home.After marrying Jane Burden in 1859, Morris commissioned architect Philip Webb to design and build a home that utilized his ideas around craft-based design. Using inspiration from the Medieval era, the result was the Red House, which the Morris’ moved into in 1860.
The interior design of the home became a working example of Morris’ philosophies regarding handcrafted versus machine-made goods. Over the next two years, William and Jane would furnish the Red House with products such as hand-embroidered fabrics used as wallpaper. The experience lead Morris to start their own interiors company—Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.–in 1861, which specialized in wall paintings and embroidered hangings.One of Morris’ most famous works is actually writings about his philosophy of design entitled The Lesser Arts (1877). In The Lesser Arts, Morris discussed the importance of surrounding oneself with goods that make them happy and that they find beautiful.
One quote in particular in often used in describing the Arts and Crafts movement:“To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce USE, that is one great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the things they must perforce MAKE, that is the other use of it.”
Unlike other design and architecture movements, Arts and Crafts was based around philosophies regarding what “good” products were rather than a specific aesthetic. However, the personal influences and preferences of those involved in advocating for Arts and Crafts bled into the appearance. In particular, Medieval, Gothic, and Pre-Raphaelite forms were heavily used.Because Arts and Crafts stressed that the handmade material itself was inherently beautiful, many designs valued simplicity. Additionally, nature was considered the highest form of inspiration. The result were products that blended simplicity, symmetry, and motifs from nature, especially birds and vine-like lines.