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o en­joy good houses and good books in self re­spect and de­cent com­fort, seems to me to be the plea­sur­able end to­wards which all hu­man be­ings ought now to strug­gle,” wrote Wil­liam Mor­ris more than a cen­tury ago. His ideas about mak­ing the home cen­tral to our artis­tic ex­pres­sion, turn­ing them into havens where ev­ery­thing is beau­ti­ful, use­ful and con­vivial, have a lot to an­swer for.

If, as a na­tion, we are a lit­tle house-proud and prop­er­ty­ob­sessed, then we are noth­ing com­pared to Mor­ris and other mem­bers of the Arts and Crafts move­ment who spent their lives ex­alt­ing the sanc­tity of the home. Os­car Wilde summed it up in his lec­ture on “The House Beau­ti­ful” in 1884. “Do not use any­thing which you do not know to be a plea­sure to your­self and which you do not be­lieve was a plea­sure to the work­man who made it.”

The legacy is still with us, as An­to­nia Har­ri­son, cu­ra­tor of the Comp­ton Ver­ney art gallery in War­wick­shire, demon­strates in a new ex­hi­bi­tion, The Arts and Crafts House: Then and Now, open­ing at the end of this month. “Con­tem­po­rary homemak­ers are as keen on ideas of sus­tain­abil­ity and they are look­ing at the use of ma­te­ri­als and ver­nac­u­lar styles in the same way,” she says. “With Arts and Crafts there was such a fas­ci­nat­ing mix of ar­chi­tec­ture, de­sign and so­cial­ism. I have be­come com­pletely hooked on it.”

For the ex­hi­bi­tion she has pulled to­gether plans, tex­tiles, em­broi­dery, wall­pa­per, fur­ni­ture and restora­tion sto­ries. It be­gins with the fathers of the move­ment John Ruskin and Mor­ris, moves on to Sir Ed­win Lu­tyens and his work with the gar­den de­signer Gertrude Jekyll (whom he called “Bumps”), then to Bail­lie Scott and CFA Voy­sey, and digs deep into the in­te­ri­ors of Mor­ris’s Red House. It fills seven rooms.

The Arts and Crafts move­ment evolved as a re­ac­tion against the in­dus­trial age and its at­ten­dant de­grad­ing poverty and mech­a­ni­sa­tion which sev­ered peo­ple from their ru­ral past and valu­able old skills. “These days the par­al­lel is the dig­i­tal age,” says An­to­nia. “We still try to es­cape to the coun­try but, like the Arts and Crafts move­ment, we find that we need the cities as places to earn money and places in which to sell the prod­ucts.”

Prize pieces in the ex­hi­bi­tion in­clude Mor­ris’s first em­broi­dery, called “If I can”, with his first use of his favourite bird mo­tif. “We have a lad­der­back chair made by Philip Clis­set, a Mor­ris & Co Sus­sex chair, and a set­tle by Ernest Barns­ley,” says An­to­nia. “We also have Mor­ris’s first two wall­pa­per de­signs, Trel­lis and Daisy, and de­signs by Voy­sey show­ing the mag­i­cal hy­per­real side to na­ture which he loved.” There are mod­ern pieces, too, such as Se­bas­tian Cox’s Get­ting Away From It All work-pod and Dan Pear­son’s wild flower meadow inspired by Mor­ris’s work.

In his early 20s Mor­ris, newly mar­ried to the stable­man’s daugh­ter and Pre-Raphaelite beauty Jane Bur­den, set off to live in Bex­ley­heath where Philip Webb had de­signed Red House for him. It was made of brick and tile, with steep pitched roofs, a stair­case tower and a well, and it had touches of the me­dieval about it. Mor­ris and his friends gath­ered and made ev­ery­thing them­selves from the fur­ni­ture to the can­dle­sticks and wall paint­ings. Dante Gabriel Ros­setti de­scribed it as “more a poem than a house”.

The friends then set up Mor­ris, Mar­shall, Faulkner & Co to carry on mak­ing sim­ple fur­ni­ture, hand-blocked wall­pa­pers and em­broi­dered pan­els, and their huge in­flu­ence on na­tional taste be­gan. It was, as Wal­ter Crane (whose wall­pa­pers are kept by the V&A), de­scribed it, “a re­vival of the me­dieval spirit in de­sign; a re­turn to sim­plic­ity, to sin­cer­ity; to good ma­te­ri­als and sound work­man­ship; to rich and sug­ges­tive sur­face dec­o­ra­tion, and sim­ple con­struc­tive forms”.

So it be­gan with Red House (now in the hands of the Na­tional Trust) and spread through many houses across the coun­try, cel­e­brat­ing the old pas­toral way of life, de­light­ing in the use of lo­cal ma­te­ri­als, re­viv­ing old crafts, re­dis­cov­er­ing what they thought of as “real Eng­land”. The Cotswolds be­came a coun­try head­quar­ters when CR Ash­bee and his Guild of Hand­i­craft moved in 1902 from Lon­don’s East End to Chip­ping Cam­p­den, where they set up their work­shops and worked, ate, sang and romped to­gether.

Ar­chi­tects such as Ernest Gim­son and Sid­ney Barns­ley fol­lowed and set­tled there too, which is why so many houses there have been re­worked in the Arts and Crafts style. Barns­ley built Beechanger in the vil­lage of Sap­per­ton with­out the use of ma­chin­ery at all. And Mor­ris fa­mously rented Kelmscott, near Lech­lade, where Jane and Ros­setti in­dulged in a long af­fair. It is now open to the public and has lent pieces for the ex­hi­bi­tion.

King­combe in Chip­ping Cam­p­den is a star Arts and Crafts house cur­rently for sale. Built by the fur­ni­ture-maker Sir Gor­don Rus­sell in 1925 with gar­dens by Sir Ge­of­frey Jel­li­coe and Rus­sell Page, its ponds and swimming pool are fed by nat­u­ral springs. Smiths Gore (01451 832832; smiths­gore.co. uk) and Sav­ills (020 7016 3780; sav­ills.co.uk) are ask­ing £4.25m.

Nearby Court Barn Mu­seum is ded­i­cated to cel­e­brat­ing the fur­ni­ture mak­ers, sil­ver­smiths and pot­ters who moved here to cre­ate their idea of Camelot.

Suzie Nor­ris-Reeves and her hus­band David bought their house in Hamp­shire’s Meon Val­ley be­cause they were hugely at­tracted to the Arts and Crafts de­tails. Suzie runs the fash­ion school at Southamp­ton So­lent Univer­sity and recog­nised the hand of a master in the fire­places and dec­o­rated walls. “The house was re­worked by Christo­pher Hat­ton Turnor who was ap­pren­ticed to Lu­tyens in 1902. He later de­signed the Watts Gallery near Guild­ford, which fea­tured promi­nently in the TV se­ries Restora­tion Vil­lage.”

She brings her stu­dents to learn from it. “We have a front door made of lead sim­i­lar to the one in the Watts Gallery. In­side we have lots of plates and blue-and­white Delft tiles set in the walls, and a fan­tas­tic orig­i­nal fire­place in the din­ing room with wooden fret­work and oak pil­lars around it.” Suzie is now split­ting the 14bed­room house in two and selling one half through Jack­son-Stops & Staff (01962 844299; jack­sons­tops.co.uk) for £995,000. She has re­named it Hat­ton Turnor House. “Let us keep his name alive,” she says, “be­cause what he did was im­por­tant.”

The Arts and Crafts House: Then and Now is at Comp­ton Ver­ney House, War­wick­shire (comp­ton­ver­ney.org.uk), June 27-Septem­ber 13. It trans­fers to the Laing Art Gallery in New­cas­tle

Star: King­combe, top, is an Arts and Crafts house inspired by Wil­liam Mor­ris, above. Top right: CFA Voy­sey’s nurs­ery chintz, from the Comp­ton Ver­ney ex­hi­bi­tion

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