Though William Morris designed and produced many different types of home furnishings, the public best remembers him for his wall paper. Morris & Co. made nearly 100 patterns, half of them designed by William Morris himself. Additionally, patterns were sometimes offered in several color ways. Funnily enough, Morris didn’t really like wall paper! He considered it a “makeshift decoration,” preferring more luxurious wall coverings like tapestry.
The English society set—who did like wallpaper and could afford high prices—were conditioned to the French style. Morris’s heavy and intricate designs took a little getting-used-to. Some referred to them as “too peculiar.”
But, in time, Morris received commissions to re-paper many a swank London townhouse or a grand country mansion (like Castle Howard in Yorkshire). Initially, it was the landed gentry and titans of capitalism who hired Morris. In time, however, “the artistic middle class,” as Morris called them, began to buy his wallpaper. Artists and university dons—or their wives—began to paper their homes with Morris’s designs, almost religiously. Such “Aesthetes” found the paper the perfect compliment to heavy, dark furniture and “Orientalist” ceramics & tile. As time went on, and the Morris aesthetic became better-known, competing manufacturers designed similar (and less-expensive) papers to sell to the less-affluent.
Occasionally, Morris would guide his design colleagues while they were working on their patterns. He advised them, while working-out their patterns, to accept the mechanical nature of the printing process and to not try too hard (unsuccessfully) to have the paper look hand-painted. He also worked to hide the “repeat” in the pattern—so that when several rows of paper have been hung (side by side) a distracting repetition would not be obvious.
Morris’s great legacy, as far as wallpaper design is concerned, was in his bold use of pattern and natural, botanical motifs. His highly-stylized adaptations of nature had a tremendous influence on many graphic designers who were to come after him.
The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has an extensive collection of Morris & Co. wallpapers. Additionally, a company which calls itself “The Original Morris & Co.” sells contemporary printings of the papers today.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248
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