The Red House

A couple of Sundays ago we visited The Red House, William and Jane Morris' home of only five years. It was designed by Morris with architect Philip Webb in 1859. Recently acquired by the National Trust, having been somewhat restored by Ted and Doris Hollamby from the 1950s onwards.

Never visited Kelmscott Manor, which would appear to be more as-was and more representative of his textiles. But the Red House had a lack of assumption that we appreciated. It felt a home. But also something askew in its atmosphere, perhaps because they had to leave for financial reasons; perhaps because of its contemporaneity with Jane's ongoing affair with Rossetti. Or that's whimsy. And I really don't want to be whimsical about Morris. Too much of that already, in the laminated tablecloths and Laura Ashleyisms to take away as souvenir from anywhere with anything to do with WM.

Been discussing him with Adrian Holme (Adrian is a constant source of inspiration; read his blog here).  WM is viewed sentimentally and also is seen to have romanticised the working class and the nature of craft. But in a context now where he is cited by, for example,Rollo Press, there is something to be understood about the way the technological cycle has returned to and now facilitating small volume, close-to-hand work. A foresight.

"To own the means of production is the only way to gain back pleasure in work, and this, in return, is considered as a prerequisite for the production of (applied) art and beauty." 

Certainly there is rigour in the junction points between holistically designed components of the House. An intensity that belies any mediated idea of Morris-lite. The weight of the hand. First hand. The objects, the conjunctions, the decisions are too vital.


Kate Jinx said...

Peter, this is above and beyond amazing and I thank you for the discussion of Morris sans whimsy. Spent a year researching his work for my thesis and ended up quite choked by it.

Peter Nencini said...

Yes thanks Kate. It was so vital to be in the same room as the works and indeed inside a work. It cuts to the vitality of his hand and ideas. Even the wallpaper, hardest to shed of association, can be seen clearly as true to nature and amazingly observed. There were some interesting books in amongst the twee souvenirs too. Transcripts of his addresses to Hammersmith Socialist Society; he was a cage rattler. I like your 70s weavers by the way.

silver said...

a late comment addition here - i too welcome and applaud this discussion of william morris. his work is so important to all of us working in design today. not just because of his designs but because of his words around it.
3 years ago i papered my small bathroom entirely in his 'daisy'. i wasn't really sure why exactly i was doing it at the time, but felt compelled to, so went with it. very very few people 'got it' because of all the associations with morris. but those that did get it, really got it.
peter - i owe you an email, it's coming...

Peter Nencini said...

Hey Rhiannon that's interesting that you used 'Daisy'. Just back from Berlin and discussed Morris with Travis Meinhof / Action Weaver who is resident at the same space as my show. Seems like a lot of us can appreciate his true edge. Also just returned to Bauhaus archive and marvelled again at Gunta Stözl who is featured wonderfully / recurrently on Int.Cla. Saw her very best last year at the big MOMA show. Speak soon.