“Benson was the first to develop his designs out of purpose and character of the metal as material. Form was paramount to him. He abandoned ornament. In doing so he opened up new ground…………Benson was the leading spirit in electric appliances in England, on the Continent he was the fruitful instigator”
The Arts & Crafts movement got underway in London in the 1880’s just as W.A.S Benson was beginning to develop his distinctive metalwork and make his mark in the world of decorative arts. Since he was a member of the Morris and Burne-Jones circle, it was almost inevitable that he would play a part in the development of the movement during this decade.
His education stood him in good stead, many of his friends were members of the A.W.G, the principle representative body of the Arts and Crafts movement in London and the camaraderie of the Guild was very important to him.
During the 1880’s Benson’s business was taking off, he had large workshops, a show-room and a studio all with good skilled employees. Production at Benson’s Hammersmith workshop increased steadily and the number of patterns used in production could be counted not by the dozen but by the hundred. Benson opened a new show-room in 1887 at 82 New Bond Street, London.
New Bond Street was an elegant and fashionable area of dressmakers, milliners, jewellers and perfumers. Benson’s shop was located in the less fashionable Northern end, not far from Morris & Co at 449 Oxford Street. As the business grew, the premises soon became too small and the adjoining premises were added, the shop front was rebuilt to Benson’s own design
In November 1890 the Benson’s moved their London address to 39 Montagu Square, a larger house, nearer the bond Street shop, representing a definite rise in social status. In Victorian Society terms they were not “carriage folk” but they were better of than most Arts and Crafts people. They decorated their home to their own style, with Morris wallpapers and textiles and Benson’s furniture and light fittings.
Benson’s life and work progressed steadily into the nineties with no major events or turning points. Benson had trusted and skilled overseers at the works and their was no need for him to visit every day. By now his own designs for light fittings and hollow-ware could be assembled from standardised parts and did not need his constant intervention. His metal ware was being talked about and had become so popular that poor imitations were appearing in shops.
In the early 1900’s architectural jobs were taking up more of Benson’s time. He converted his old lathe-room into an architectural office and in 1906 William fulfilled a dream by designing a country house called “Windleshaw” in Sussex with eleven bedrooms, which took two years to construct.
In January 1923 with the cash from the sale of “Windleshaw” the Benson’s purchased a house at 18 Hereford Square in South Kensington. Benson spent his short retirement mainly at Castle corner, his house in Manorbier, bathing in the fairy coves, playing tennis and looking for fossils in the limestone cliffs. Benson died here in 1924 after a short illness.
Bedside Cabinets, alternatively night tables or bedside tables, were designed to stand beside the bed or elsewhere in the bedroom. Serving the role of a coffee/side table during night time hours at the bedside.
Before indoor toilets became commonplace, the bedside cabinet/nightstand was used to store the chamber pot. Early bedside cabinets were fitted with a drawer and usually contained a storage space below with a cupboard door, otherwise known as a commode.
Founded in 1875, the name of Liberty is synonymous with Art Nouveau ornaments and Arts & Crafts Furniture. Employing designers of the calibre of William Morris, Archibald Knox and Leonard Wyburd, Liberty created iconic originals which drew their inspiration from all four corners of the globe.
Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the founder of Liberty of London, was a man of vision with a thirst for foreign culture. Born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire in 1843, he began working at Farmer and Rogers of Regent Street, in 1862 – the year of the Great London Exposition. In 1874 he decided to open his own store, with the intention of revolutionising home design and fashion.
With the aid of a family loan, Arthur Liberty took out a small lease, opening Liberty & Co in Regent Street, in 1875. Initially it was an Oriental warehouse, selling imported fabrics and ornaments from Japan and the Middle East. This included ‘Anglo-Oriental’ bamboo furniture , some of it made by local craftsmen. The style proved very popular, and by 1883 Liberty had enlarged his premises and opened a Furnishing and Decoration studio under the direction of Leonard Wyburd.
This is where the first original Liberty designs were created, many of them inspired by foreign shores. At this time, there was a craze for Egyptology, and Liberty capitalised on this with its unique “Thebes” stool. Based on an ancient Egyptian design, it quickly became a best seller. On the strength of this, Liberty opened an “Eastern Bazaar” in his store at 142-144 Regent Street. Opened in 1885, it quickly became a fashionable shopping emporium for Pre-Raphaelite artisans.
By the 1890s, Arthur Liberty had built strong working relationships with a number of English Arts & Crafts Furniture designers, as well as Art Nouveau craftsmen like Archibald Knox, whose iconic Cymric and Tudric designs became symbolic of the Art Nouveau movement. Other Art Nouveau designers working for Liberty included C.F.A. Voysey, Walter Crane, L.F.Day and the Silver Studio, which together made Art Nouveau a mainstream art form.
Liberty worked closely with many different craftsmen and wholesalers to develop the eclectic “Liberty look.” William birch, for example, supplied the rush-seated Victorian dining chairs popular in Cumbrian antique shops today. J.S Henry supplied furniture designed by George Walton, whose antique dining chairs and settles have become museum pieces – the V & A has George Walton Liberty furniture on display.
Liberty also used German designers, such as Richard Riemerschmid, prized for his Modernistic antique dining chairs. Pewterware was introduced around 1898, importing from German designer J.P.Kayser before Archibald Knox began designing the in-house Liberty collections. Other metalware craftsmen included Oliver Baker and John Pearson, while new textile, carpet and costume ranges were developed by designers like E.W. Godwin, Thomas Wardle, Voysey and Morton & Co.
Sir Arthur Lazenby Liberty died in 1917, though the Liberty name lives on. Today, collectors from Cornwall to Cumbria hunt down the rustic Victorian dining chairs and antique marquetry furniture which once graced the Liberty Gift And Furniture catalogues.
A secretaire bookcase usually has drawers and cupboards to the base, the drawer opens to reveal a fitted interior of small drawers, pigeon holes and a writing surface, topped by a bookcase usually with glazed doors. The correct or the most common correct term for the secretary desk , is the secretary and bookcase. Unfortunately there is no unanimity on this term, even among specialists. In Europe the same piece of furniture has been called bureau and bookcase and then desk and bookcase. Also, the general public usually call this kind of desk a secretary, or secretaire.
One could say that all desks which have the capacity to cover the working surface are secretaires, while all others are simply desks. To add to the confusion certain forms of the secretaire are called escritoire, usually when the bookcase section is glazed as opposed to panelled. On most antique secretaires and also on most reproductions the user has to pull out two small wooden planks called sliders in order to support the desktop, before actually turning the desktop from its closed, angled, position to its normal horizontal working position.
A secretaire desk is generally not used by an office secretary, since this kind of antique desk of now quite rare and not used in the modern office
A botanist, cabinet maker, designer and writer, Christopher Dresser was a pioneer in the world of Arts and Crafts furniture. Born in Glasgow, in 1834 (the same year as William Morris), he is widely acknowledged as the first independent British industrial designer, a true innovator whose furniture and objets d’art were a total antipode to the mass-produced factory ware of the era. His sleek, minimalist Victorian antique dining chairs, for example, were years ahead of their time.
At the unusually young age of 13, Dresser won a scholarship to London’s Government School of Design. Initially, however, his interest was in botany. Having gained a doctorate at the University of Jena, he lectured in botany at the Department of Science and Art in South Kensington. At this time he became influenced by the rules of design in Owen Jones’ book, “Grammar of Ornament”; its propositions became a guiding factor throughout Dresser’s career. His own work, “The Art of Decorative Design” was published in 1862.
Dresser wrote and lectured extensively on both botany and design, but in 1860 he decided to concentrate on the latter and established a studio at home. His work at this time was highly influenced by botanical design, applying the ethos of a function for everything, coupled with beauty and simplicity of form. Later, he became influenced by Japanese and Asian design, with simple, geometric lines and economic use of materials. Working with a range of media, including wood, iron, japanned metal, ceramics, electroplate and clouded glass, his aim was to produce everything needed to furnish the modern home.
By 1871 Dresser was a designer for a large number of manufacturers, producing textile, metalwork, glass, ceramic and wallpaper designs for manufacturers like Minton, Wedgewood, Coalbrookdale and Couper Glass, who often used the Dresser name as a marketing tool. At his zenith, Dresser employed over 20 assistants, some of whom went on to become important Arts and Crafts furniture designers in their own right.
Totally functional, radically different and years ahead of their time, Dresser’s antique dining chairs, toast racks, teapots, glassware and antique tables are eminently collectable.
Examples of Christopher Dresser Designs
Art Deco style conjures for most a cool, clean vision of interiors with angular forms, stylised figures, exotic woods and materials, linear decoration and modern simplicity.
It is generally considered to have flourished in the 1920s and 1930s, reaching its zenith in the years between the first and second world wars. However, in reality the style was evolving as early in 1900 in reaction to other styles, but it wasn’t until the 1925″ Paris Exposition Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes” that it was recognised as a separate movement that was totally detached in terms of intellectual stimulus and interpretation from other existing styles. The exhibition acted as a show case for many new designers and interior decorators such as Edgar Brandt, Paul Follot and Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann and was eventually to lend its name to the produce of this bold new era. Art Deco came into being partly as a fusion of various influences and partly as a deliberate rejection of previous traditional styles.
A Fine example of An Art Deco Walnut Dining Suite
Edward William Godwin was a late 19th Century architect and furniture designer who became a key figure in the Aesthetic movement. A self-taught architect in the neo-Gothic style, he later became one of the most important figures of the Victorian Japonisme style of furniture design. Examples of his striking ebonised antique cabinets and tiered tables can be seen at the New York Museum of Modern Art.
Godwin was born in Bristol on 26 May1833. Educated in London, he returned to Bristol as an apprentice architect. He ended up teaching himself the craft, leaving to set up his own business in 1854 designing buildings in the Venetian-inspired polychromatic neo-Gothic style. Unable to find furniture and fittings to match the quality of his work, he designed those as well.
Godwin’s commissions included designing Northampton Town Hall, and alterations to Dromore Castle. As time progressed he gained a preference for Japanese design, which he began to incorporate into his interiors, as in the furniture for Dromore Castle. The style, which was coined “Anglo-Japanese”, sought to capture the clean lines and simplicity of Japanese design, while making it desirable for the Victorian domestic environment. Later, he became involved with theatrical costume and stage design while with the actress Ellen Terry, which led to commissions for Liberty.
Original Godwin designs can sell for tens of thousands of pounds. However, many of the designs for Godwin’s antique cabinets and tables were sold to other companies, and may appear under their names. As well as furniture he designed textiles, wallpapers, tiles and metalwork, and wrote several architectural books. In the last 10 years of his life, Godwin designed several stunning buildings, such as James McNeill Whistler’s Chelsea White House, and the front entrance of the Fine Art Society.
Godwin originals often turn up as heirlooms – and are potentially very valuable. In 2006 one of the antique tables at a Cheltenham sale was listed as an Eastern Walnut three-tiered piece, with an estimated price of £150 – £200. Someone identified it as the work of Edward Godwin, at which point the price was radically upgraded to £80,000
Thomas Chippendale was a master of his craft whose work is of enduring significance – and on two counts. As the author of the oddly titled “The Gentleman and cabinet makers Director “(first published in 1754), he produced the first substantial collection of furniture designs. Apart from demonstrating his genius, this provided clients and craftsmen throughout the century with a superlative pattern-book from which furniture could be chosen and made. In this way Chippendale’s work did much to improve standards of both craftsmanship and taste, while also initiating a new genre without which the work of subsequent designers such as Hepplewhite and Sheraton would have been unthinkable. Moreover as a cabinet maker, Chippendale himself produced furniture of the highest excellence, mastering every style to which he turned his hand and working for the aristocratic elite of his time. This book describes both Chippendale’s printed designs and his actual furniture – two subjects that overlap rather than coincide.
He was born into a vigorous craft tradition that was still capable of further refinement and not yet threatened by factory mass-production. And he came to manhood when heavy furniture was becoming outmoded – a time when creative change was in the air. This was not just a matter of demand for lighter or more elegant furniture, but involved a simple but decisively important technical change – in broad terms, the replacement of walnut by mahogany as the wood used for quality furniture.
Almost everybody has heard of Chippendale, he is so famous that people jokingly refer to their battered household chairs as their “Chippendale’s” and in a more serious vein they use the word to describe almost any 18th century mahogany furniture whose workmanship is fanciful or intricate
The Great Exhibition – The worlds first ever international exhibition – was held in Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London in 1851. There were thousands of exhibitors and the event was an unabashed celebration of British wealth, power and know how, designed as a showcase for the artistic prowess of a great imperial and industrial nation. Charlotte Bronte described it as “a marvelous stirring, bewildering sight, a mixture of Genii Palace and a mighty bazaar”
It made vast profit and successfully distracted the British people from the political and industrial unrest of the previous decade, yet everyone agreed on its splendour. Certainly in their desire to outdo each other in luxury and ingenuity, manufacturers of furniture, ceramics, textiles and other decorative artefact’s, attained new heights of vulgarity, imitating every conceivable period and style and often combining several in one object, the majority of exhibits were met with crys of outraged good taste!
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Arthur Simpson is one of the forgotten masters of English Arts & Crafts Furniture. Born in Cumbria, in 1857, he showed an early flair for wood carving, taking two apprenticeships and working in London before returning to Kendal to establish his famous Handicrafts workshop. The clean simple lines and superb workmanship of his Arts & Crafts furniture found a ready market locally. Simpson died in 1922, but the workshop continued under the guidance of his son until 1950. Many of Simpson’s finely crafted antique cabinets, chairs and chests can still be found in Cumbria today.
Arthur Simpson started his apprenticeship at the age of 14, with a Kendal cabinet maker. At the age of 18 he transferred his skills to Gillow’s of Lancaster, where he showed tremendous scope as a woodcarver. Simpson then worked under Samuel Barfield in Leicester, returning to Kendal as an ‘Architectural and General Wood Carver’.
Initially, he didn’t meet with much success. A devout Quaker, Simpson’s early work was mainly ecclesiastical in nature, similar to other neo-Gothic styles of the period. In despair he went to London, finding work with H. Faulkner Armitage of Altrincham, where he quickly discovered what the current trends were.
In 1885, Simpson returned to Kendal, this time concentrating on both the ecclesiastical and domestic market. He was so successful that he was able to move to larger premises and, by 1888, was employing several workers. It was at this time the Handicrafts workshop was established.
A Rare Pair of Oak Arts & Crafts Armchairs By Arthur Simpson