The first stirrings of the Arts and Crafts movement appeared in the mid-nineteenth century, when John Ruskin, prominent art and social critic, began writing essays assailing the increasing industrialization of the day. His essays embraced the connection between art and nature, influencing design and craft for decades. Philip Speakman Webb was an early proponent of the philosophy; the house he designed with and built for his friend William Morris in 1859 is considered a splendid example of early Arts and Crafts style. Morris, himself one of the progenitors of the movement, believed art and craft could change people’s lives, and he strived to create finely crafted utilitarian objects that were beautiful as well as functional.
Beyond furniture and other household objects, the movement had a profound effect on the architecture of the day. Inspired by Ruskin and Morris, a group of London-based architects formed the Art Workers’ Guild in 1884, bringing architects, artists, designers, and craftsmen together with the goal of blurring the lines between fine and applied art. Arts and Crafts houses—in sharp contrast to the architectural styles of much of the nineteenth century—tended to simplicity, horizontal outlines, and the use of brick, stone, roughcast, and other natural materials. Practitioners went beyond mere structural design, believing that the architect should be responsible for everything associated with the building, including furniture, fixtures, and floor and wall coverings. Although few architects and designers represented here are household names today, they are responsible for a large number of the characteristic Arts and Crafts houses and cottages—including interior design and fixtures—built for both country and town during the movement’s heyday.