Design Moment: Trellis by William Morris, 1862
‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’
William Morris (1834-1896) is arguably Britain’s most celebrated 19th-century designers and one of the key visionaries behind the Arts and Crafts movement. His most famous quote encapsulates his thinking and it still holds true: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
The basic tenets of the still influential movement was the rejection of the industrialisation of manufacture – in all things from furniture to fabric – in favour of the handmade. He designed more than 50 wallpaper patterns starting with Trellis in 1862.
Wallpaper was gaining in popularity – new printing techniques made it cheaper to produce and a more accessible alternative to fabric wallcovering but his designs weren’t an immediate success as the taste for wallpaper in Britain in the 1860s was for more restrained, pretty patterns not his lush exuberant naturalistic ones.
The Trellis pattern was inspired by Morris’s roses growing up on trellis in the garden of Red House – the house in Kent which he designed to reflect his theories. By comparison with his wallpaper designs of the 1870s, including Willow and Marigold, Trellis was simple and more inexpensive to produce. It is still in production.
His wallpapers, which typically feature large blowsy flowers and scrolling foliage, did best in large rooms and so his first clients were aristocrats with mansions and bohemians drawn to the luxurious naturalistic style. London’s Victoria & Albert museum has a large collection of Morris wallpaper.