The Red House: One of the most significant Arts and Crafts buildings from the 19th century

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Marija Georgievska
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The famous Red House, located in Upton, Bexleyheath in England is one of the most significant Arts and Crafts buildings from the 19th century. It was designed by architect Philip Webb and textile designer and artist William Morris as a family home.

Morris decided to build a rural home in Southeast London because he was following an education at the University of Oxford. With the money that he inherited from his family, Morris decided to purchase some land and, together with his friend Webb, designed this fabulous “Palace of Art”. It was made in the Neo-Gothic style, inspired by architecture of the 13th century. After it had been completed in 1860, the house became one of the first examples of the Arts and Crafts movement before it became international.

The front side of the house. Author: David Hillas. CC BY-SA 2.0

This movement started in England and flourished in North America and Europe from the 1880s until the 1920s. The main styles of decoration were the medieval, folk, and romantic. Morris envisioned the house also as his workshop, and it was essential to him that the site would be in a calming area with a large open space, hills, and rivers.

He also bought an orchard and a meadow because he wanted his home to be surrounded with cherries and apples. The Red House was the first independent project as an architect for Webb and is the only house that was ever built by Morris. It is designed to an L-shaped plan, with two stories and a high-pitched roof that looks like a witches hat.

On the ground floor is the kitchen, the library, a morning-room, large-hall, and dining room. On the first floor, the drawing-room, the studio, the main living rooms, and the bedrooms can be visited. Different window types were made which were positioned that way so they can suit the design of the rooms and not the symmetry of the exterior.

View of the Red House from the gardens. Author: Ethan Doyle White. CC BY-SA 3.0

The stained glass windows were created by Webb and his friend Edward Burne-Jones. Because the 13th-century styles inspired the architecture, Morris described it as “ very medieval in spirit”. The goal of the designer was to adapt the Gothic methods of building in 19th-century architecture. After the mansion was constructed, the fun part for Morris began.

The house became one of the first examples of the Arts and Crafts movement. Author: Tony Hisgett. CC BY 2.0

He created almost everything inside the house, only a few items like the Persian carpets and the blue china weren’t his work. Many furniture items were designed by Webb such as the chairs, the oak dining table, fire dogs, copper candlesticks and more. The garden was a unique design, and later it was divided into four smaller gardens filled with roses.

The hallway. Author: Ethan Doyle White. CC BY-SA 3.0

Years after the house was completed, Morris founded a decorative arts company together with his friends Peter Paul Marshall, Charles Faulkner, Burne-Jones, Webb, and Dante Rossetti and the name was Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. They sought to return ultimately to the methods of Medieval Gothic craftsmanship. Together they called themselves The Firm and made fabulous furniture, metalwork, murals, architectural carving, and stained glass windows. In a brief time, the company became very popular among the bourgeoisie after an exhibit at the International Exhibition in South Kensington that took place in 1862.

The pointy-shaped well. Author: Ethan Doyle White. CC BY-SA 3.0

At one point, there was a plan for the house to be extended. Morris wanted to build a second wing for the Burne-Jones family. But after Burne-Jones’s wife Georgiana had a miscarriage, the plans were over. Some historians believe that the reason for the unrealized plans was that Burne-Jones had to move to London because his artistic career became very successful.

Today, the house is a property of The National Trust. Author: Tony Hisgett. CC BY 2.0

After a while, Morris started to recognize various problems in the house. The interior was very cold in winter so, with his medical conditions, he decided he could no longer stay there. He decided to sell it, and until it became a property of the National Trust, it had several owners. Today, the mansion is opened to the public, and a tea room and gift shop have been added. The Red House remains one of the most stylish homes which is a real wonder for creative people.