'HAVE NOTHING IN YOUR HOUSES THAT YOU DO NOT KNOW
TO BE USEFUL OR BELIEVE TO BE BEAUTIFUL.’
Arts and Crafts pioneer and designer William Morris built Red House in Bexleyheath in 1860. The house was co-designed with the architect Philip Webb as a weekend retreat for Morris and his wife Jane. In this idyllic setting he was regularly visited by a number of Pre-Raphaelite painters, including Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, who contributed to the decoration of the house.
We went in search of the Red House and discovered a treasure of early Arts and Crafts and Pre-Raphaelite influences including beautiful stained glass windows, murals, tapestries, painted furniture, and a lovely garden and tea room.
Working together with Ford Maddox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelite painters on the decoration of Red House, but finding it difficult to find hand-crafted items which satisfied his aesthetic, Morris was inspired to co-found his first decorative arts practice. Their utopian ethos included a desire to return to reinstating decoration as a fine art, and rejected the rising mechanisation of the Victorian era. Adopting hand-craftsmanship and returning to the appreciation of artisan production would become the foundations of The Arts and Crafts Movement.
We have always loved Millais’ painting of Ophelia and been fascinated by the story of the model Elizabeth Siddal. She was a very unusual choice of model, and like the Pre-Raphaelite painters she was quite unconventional for her time. Having fallen in love with Rossetti, she became a regular visitor to William Morris’ Red House. Recent renovations of William and Jane Morris’ bedroom have uncovered a mural with self portraits painted by Rosetti and Elizabeth Siddal. It seems Elizabeth was not just the pretty face we see in so many Pre-Raphaelite paintings but also a talented, if unsung, artist in her own right.
‘WHATEVER YOU HAVE IN YOUR ROOMS THINK FIRST OF THE WALLS;
FOR THEY ARE THAT WHICH MAKES YOUR HOUSE AND HOME.’
This hallway in Red House, called Pilgrim’s Rest, incorporates a blue-painted and mural decorated settle, in classic Morris’ colours, with a Persian rug. Although he insisted on British design as his main inspiration, Morris also incorporated Persian rugs and Delft inspired tiles, alongside embroidered wall hangings and weavings created both by him and his wife Jane.
William Morris' 'Pilgrim's Rest' at Red House
In this conversion of a Mayfair Town House into a comfortable office, Devas Design used similar colours for the walls and Oriental rugs to create an interior which both reflects the building original use as a home and to create a relaxed sanctuary from the pressures of the working day.
Devas Designs Mayfair Townhouse
In this Belgravia Town House, Devas Designs created a reading room and library and an elegant dining room inspired by the gothic fireplace and wall hanging, all of which reflect Morris’ love of traditional colours to create a calm palette.
Devas Designs Belgravia Town House
Throughout June, Red House is hosting ‘Roses at Red House’ celebrating William Morris’ love of English gardens. The roses, honey suckle, jasmine of the Red House gardens together with an appreciation of the natural world were an inspiration for Morris’ hand blocked wallpaper designs.