Appendix 36: Notes on England's Post-Morris Architect/Designers

2. Charles F. A. Voysey (1857-1941)

F. A. Voysey: Refined Simplicity

voysey portrait 1884

Of particular importance was the expression of this new spirit in furnishing.

The entrance hall of Voysey's own home, The Orchard, Chorley Wood, Buckinghamshire, of 1900 can serve as an example:

with its lightness: the woodwork painted white, a pure intense blue for the tiles, unmitigated contrasts of uprights and horizontals, especially in the screen to the staircase (a motif which was for a time to become eminently popular), and furniture of bold, direct if a little outres forms.

Later, in a bench made for Garden Corner, Chelsea, London in 1906 (pl. 68) even these reminiscences of Art Nouveau have gone, and the whole design, with the exception of the brackets to the small side flaps, consists entirely of vertical and horizontal members. And as for the brackets, they have the elementary geometric shape of exact quarter circles.

The material is unpolished and unstained oak, another instance of the "back to fundamentals" and "back to nature" tendencies which stand at the beginning of our century.

There is one more thing which must be said about Voysey and which places him further from Morris and close to us. He was a designer, not a craftsman.

Ernest Gimson (1864-1920), the greatest of the English artist-craftsmen, was, as a matter of fact, in not too different a position, although not many people realize it. He had been trained, it is true, in craftsmanship, but his famous works of cabinetmaking, metal-work and so on are only designed and not made by him. The chairs shown here (pl. 67) give an impression of his honesty, his feeling for the nature of wood, and his unrevolutionary spirit.

Source: Nikolaus Pevsner, Pioneers of Modern Design New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1947, pages 89-90

According to Isabelle Ansncomb, page 112, Voysey began designing furniture in the 1890s, with preference for pieces in plain oak, decorated either with brass strap-hinges or his favourite pierced heart motif.

To Voysey, the horizontal signified repose, while the vertical represented vigour. His furniture emphasizes structure and proportion, with tapering legs or supports which often end in a wide, square cap, an element borrowed from Mackmurdo.

According to the major biographer of C F A Voysey -- Wendy Hitchmough -- in 1900 C. F. A. Voysey

was the most influential designer in Britain, with a reputation that spread across Europe and as far afield as the United States of America. He is important to today's designers and architectural historians because he can be seen as a vital link between the Arts and Crafts and Modern movements.

For his contemporaries, Voysey's strength was his ability to translate

the complex critical philosophies of John Ruskin and A. W. N. Pugin ... into simple and practical statements in his writings and his work. label for source code

Voysey recognized that without the pioneering work of Morris ... his wallpaper, fabric and furniture designs would not have existed. (Voysey' famous 1899 cabinet, the "Kelmscott Chaucer", houses the Morris' Kelmscott Press book by that name. -- need more info on this incident) Voysey told The Builder's Journal & Architectural Record in September 1896, that :

It is he [Morris] who prepared the public mind and educated it, and who has done for me what I might not have been able to do for myself, made it possible for me to live.'

Source: Wendy Hitchmough, The Arts & Crafts lifestyle and design New York: Watson-Guptil, 2000, page 18

Voysey's achievements are impressive:

he patched over the Victorian era dilemma, where handcraftsmanship and machine-driven mass-production were reconciled he enlarged the architect's purview of a house to include the design of many elements that build a "house" into a "home": interior decoration, furniture design, and he invented a design for housing that was fashionable, founded on tradition, but at the cutting edge architectural design.

For Hitchmough, Voysey probably learnt the teachings of Ruskin and Pugin at his father's knee. When Voysey decided to become an architect, his natural talents:-- his clarity of vision; his refined sense of simplicity; the insistence on harmony and balance in his work and an uncompromising scrutiny of every detail, were probably "consciously developed family traits".

Claims Hitchmough,

to do justice to Voysey's achievement, especially if one includes domestic creations beyond architecture, would require a vey large book, definitely outside the reality of today's economics of publishing.

Source: Wendy Hitchmough "Introduction", C F A Voysey London: PHAIDON PRESS, 1995, page 7

from pages 129-131 of wendy mitchmough

Voysey's furniture, like every other aspect of his work, was recognized as exceptional for the period, for,

'its broad simple effects, its reliance on propor­tion, its eschewal of useless ornament, and its strik­ingly original lines'.

It was particularly appropriate to the plain lines and lifestyle of a modern country cottage, and according to The Studio in 1899 its influence established 'a school of its own'.71

Source: Horace Townsend, "Notes on Country and Suburban Houses Designed by C F A Voysey", The Studio XVI 1899, p 157+

If you can appreciate the reticence and severity of Mr Voysey's work, you can no longer tolerate the ordinary commercially designed product. His furniture deserves elaborate and patient study, for its one aim is 'proportion, proportion, proportion' and that is a quality most elusive and difficult even to appreci­ate, still less to achieve.

Source: Anon, 'Some recent designs by Mr. Voysey', The Studio, voL. vii, May 1896, pp. 209-19.

There were patches of brilliant colour at The Orchard in the turkey-red twill of the curtains, which Voysey liked to specify whenever the client would permit them. It was an exacting specification, indicative of the detailed attention that he gave to every aspect of his buildings: the top hem had to be one and a half inches, and the bot­tom hem one inch. The curtain rings were to be seven-eighths of an inch in diameter and fastened two and a half inches apart. Each light was to be covered by a single width of fabric: 'The several widths should not be joined together in any way and on no account should they be pleated or gath­ered.'67 Only the narrow pelmet was allowed to be slightly gathered and the lengths of fabric were neatly aligned with the stone mullions.

Voysey was equally rigorous on the subject of hall floors and again The Orchard served as a paragon.68 The Orchard hall and the kitchen offices were exquisitely paved with Delabole slate and the hall window was fitted with a long seat, which doubled as a chest for storing rugs. Voysey claimed that the hall fire, by virtue of its central position, kept the whole house warm in severe weather and early photographs show the fireplaces equipped with tongues, pokers, and shovels made to his designs and his hand-painted clock, 'Time & Tide Wait For No Man' on the hall mantel-shelf.

The study, the school room and the bedrooms were decorated with Voysey wallpaper, and the study and dining room were fitted with Voysey car­pets. The dining room was papered with a plain, bottle-green, Eltonbury-silk paper, which con­trasted with the red curtains around the porthole window, and with the blue and green carpet deco­rated with red and yellow flowers (which was also photographed in the bedroom). But if Voysey was extravagant in his use of colour the overall effect was restrained by his meticulous handling of pro­portions, and the consistent quality of his detailing.

All the rooms were furnished with Voysey's plain oak furniture, 'simply oiled'. He was by no means the only architect to decorate and furnish his houses, although as a contemporary noted in 1899: 'It was not so very many years since ... the architect who wandered from the strait and narrow path and took to designing furniture, wall-papers, and so forth, had committed a species of profes­sional suicide.'69

As his predecessors, Voysey cited E. W Godwin and A. H. Mackmurdo for their fur­niture, 70

Source: Wendy Hitchmough "Introduction", C F A Voysey London: PHAIDON PRESS, 1995, as adapted from pages 129-131.

However The Studio described Godwin as the architect who 'more than any other dissipated this absurd theory', and Voysey was heralded as the most 'completely suc­cessful in this respect'.

The rush-seated, high-back chairs with splats shaped around two cut-out hearts, which fur­nished the dining room at The Orchard, together with the lathe-back armchair, were identical to the ones photographed in the dining room at Broadleys.73 Variations on the lathe-back chair, with and without arms, were used again at The Homestead, but with four lathes in the back in place of five.

Characteristic profiles and motifs were repeated from one piece to another: the gen­tle curve at the top of a chair back and the projec­tion of verticals beyond the line of duty — some­times capped with circular plates — became part of a clearly defined and recognizable style.

Plain oak surfaces were left unadorned and the oak was often carefully selected for the quality of its grain, but although Voysey was adept at modelling there is no evidence to suggest that he crafted his own furni­ture. F. Coote made up many of his designs from 1889 through the 1890s, and from 1901 F. C. Nielsen's prices were repeatedly given on his drawings. There were other, less predominant names: Thallon and J. S. Henry both made furni­ture for Voysey under the prerequisite that the standard of their craftsmanship and the quality of materials used were to be irrefutable down to the dovetails:

'A mean man will inevitably tend to shab­biness in the hidden parts of his work; he will put deal bottoms to his satinwood casket and fasten up his joinery with screws or nails to save the labour of dovetailing or mortising. How often we see effectiveness in the place of genuine quality.'


One of the furniture-makers who Voysey occasionally used, and whose affinity for the inherent beauty of wood may well have influenced his designs, was Arthur W. Simpson of Kenda1.75

The two men shared a profound admiration for Ruskin (Simpson had met him at his home, Brantwood on Lake Consiston) and they became life-long friends with a mutual respect for each other's work, so that when Voysey designed Broadleys he specified that Simpson should make the finely cut and inlaid balusters and the veranda seat.

Simpson often dined with Voysey when he was in London buying timber or for exhibitions, and there is a story that on one occasion when Voysey was in the Lake District he and Simpson took the train together from Kendal to dine at Riggs Hotel in Windermere. From the train, Simpson pointed to a building and asked Voysey what he thought of it. Outraged, Voysey is said to have replied, 'Its damnable, Simpson. Damnable! Don't look at it; it'll spoil your taste.76

Later, in 1909, Voysey designed a house for Simpson — Littleholme in Kendal. Simpson's observation of the simple lines and fine proportions of Voysey's furniture clearly influenced his own designs. However, though he admired Voysey's buildings, the furniture at Littleholme was made to Simpson's designs.

25 Oak dining chair with arms and rush seat, c.1922. 26 Oak dining chair without arms. Various versions of this chair with slightly different proportions were made from 1902.

Voysey's furniture was meticulously propor­tioned and often it was the proportions of the piece that gave it its elegant or sturdy character, as The Studio noted in October 1899: He ... relies very much on grace of proportion, a feature to which reproductions on a reduced scale cannot, of course, do adequate justice. Indeed, the rigidly severe character of the join­ery, accompanied by plain though elaborately-studied mould­ings, make it seem almost bald, unless the objects themselves, completed full-size, are examined; in which event the restraint and refinement of the whole can hardly fail to be appreciated!77

Although Voysey's furniture was extremely simple, the detailing was refined by thought and feeling.

The legs were often chamfered towards the base, so that while they were square in plan at the top, the corners were tapered away making them octagonal at the base; this detailing was appropriate to the function of the parts, as well as to the elegance of the piece as a whole — strength is required at the top of a chair leg, where it meets the seat while the leg can afford to be more slender and consequently weaker towards the base.

Voysey claimed a deliber­ate avoidance of style and to reject mannerisms in his work.

Nevertheless the chamfered legs, the tapering or capped uprights, the recurrence of pierced hearts, the gently curved tops and oak pel­mets and his consistent use of straight lathes, arranged in groups in his bed-heads or with candid regularity in his chairs and chesterfield, all define an unmistakably individual style.

A sense of proportion, he wrote, was the conse­quence of temperament rather than learning and education, the expression of feeling far more than thought.

78 C. F. A. Voysey, Individu­ality (London, Chapman & Hall, 1915), pp. 115-16.

At The Orchard, this spontaneous expression of temperament and Voysey's discrimi­nating sense of proportion and propriety suffuse every element of the house. Early photographs of the interiors commissioned by Voysey ring with his voice and demonstrate that the wholesome good­ness, which made so many imitations of his work irksome, was never overbearing in his own designs. Despite his condemnations of the 'useless and often gimcrack ornaments and nick-nacks' that cluttered 'nine thousand out of every ten thousand houses ... the typical, hideous, carved coal-box, or a three-legged standard lamp with tiers upon tiers of silk petticoat and the like monstrosities',79 The Orchard was not stripped of every vestige of senti­mentality and nor was it as obsessively clean as some of Voysey's writings might suggest: the pho­tographs show interiors peppered with small pic­tures, vases of peacock feathers and honesty, and an array of personal objects, and the dining room and study hearths were scattered with the residue of spent fires.

Voysey believed that beautiful surroundings had an inspirational and morally uplifting effect on peo­ple: All objects possess intrinsic qualities, having a direct influence on our minds and emotions.'80° He once wittily quipped: 'If I cannot be graceful and comely, I can at least have a graceful and comely umbrella, and in that way help to keep up my inter­est in those qualities.'81 And again, (with more than a hint of irony) he told The British Architect: 'Cold vegetables are less harmful than ugly dish covers. One affects the body and the other affects the soul.'82 His philosophy of spiritual advancement through exposure to beauty was essentially Platonic and a 1901 edition of Plato's The Republic was found among Voysey's personal effects after his death. His interpretation of these ideals, however, was inextri­cably linked with his quest for a harmonious and peaceful environment through the perfection of proportions and the proliferation of restful horizon­tals. A sense of balance and calm was one of the most distinguishing features at The Orchard.

Even before The Orchard was complete it was the subject of an article in Country Life, who urged their readers to imagine the 'soft warm red of the tiled roof [!]'. In 1901 it was lavishly illustrated in Charles Holme's book on Modern British Domestic Architecture and Decoration. Inevitably it brought Voysey clients who would entrust him, not only with architectural commissions, but also with the provision of interior architecture and furnishing.

With a rectilinearity he derived from Mackmurdo and an elegance reminiscent of the great Aesthetic movement designer Edward William Godwin (1833-1886) -- my entry on the Aesthetic movement is under revision -- C. F. A. Voysey's furniture looks thin and delicate, employing simple, beautifully proportioned forms.

With its starkness, its thin lines, and its simplicity, Voysey's furniture was definitely idiosyncratic, approaching Art Nouveau. And although clearly influenced by country furniture, it possessed a refinement that kept it from appearing rustic. Ordinarily typically built with unfinished solid oak and traditional joinery.

voysey design

Voysey's program was uncomplicated: rectilinear elements fashioned as thinly as function would permit; wide overhanging horizontal planes playing off strong vertical ones; and carefully selected shallow curves to soften straight lines. His work was uncomplicated but skillfully executed.

Trained in London, Voysey drank deeply of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic. He was an early member of the Art Worker's Guild and contributed to the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society shows from the start.

Voysey's Retail Contributions

Unlike such contemporaries as C. R. Ashbee and Ernest Gimson, however, Voysey did not share the movement's abhorrence of factory production or its inclination to make a craftsman of every designer. Indeed, throughout his career, Voysey supplemented his architectural commissions by selling designs to be manufactured and sold in stores.

Before he began attracting architectural clients, Voysey supported himself with commissions from manufacturers of textiles and wallpaper. His sprightly pattern designs, cleaner and less cluttered than popular Morris-inspired work were an immediate success and showed Voysey to be the rare designer who was equally fluent working in two and three dimensions.

As an architect, Voysey specialized in building small houses. In a profession that traditionally awarded distinction based on designs for churches and public buildings, he became one of the first to attain international recognition based solely on residential work.

Voysey was as gifted in metal design as he was working in wood, stone, or fabric, and he styled most of the hardware and fittings for the houses he designed as well as for the furniture. Voysey's way with wood was always restrained, but he often used metal to give his furniture a decorative flourish.

Definitions Needed

inlay: -- glossary_inlay.htm

Quarter-Sawn Oak; Quarter Oak

Prairie Style

Fumed Oak

tenons and keys


exposed tenons,

many pieces ornamented with hand-wrought copper or iron hardware.

Impact on America of Britain's New Architecture

Chicago Architecture: Its Debt to the Arts and Crafts Author(s): H. Allen Brooks Source: The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians30, No. 4 December 1971, pages 312-317

(See also: David Gebhard, "C. F. A. Voysey- to and from America", The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 30, No. 4 December 1971, pages 304-312; some of Gebhard's comments about the impact of Voysey and some of his British colleagues are discussed below.)

I turned to these sources out of curiosity about whether the British new architects originated the trend of including designs for furniture in their architecture ? for clients, or is that custom something the Frank Lloyd Wright originated?

In a paper given at the twenty-fourth annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians in Chicago, in Jan. 1971, H. Allen Brooks argues first that the Arts and Crafts "was a movement and not a style".

It had little concern for formal relationships, and advocated no specific vocabulary of form. It was an attitude, an approach to a problem that demanded simplicity, elimination, and respect for materials.

To isolate the debt which Chicago architecture owed to the Arts and Crafts, we need first to look at what is known of the background, that is: --

1. to consider the history of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the American Midwest

2. the existing situation in Midwest architecture

3. the means of communication by which the Midwesterner learned of the British-inspired movement.

Here's the pivotal evidence which allows us to speak of a "post-Morris" era:

Only after the death of William Morris -- in 1896 -- did the Arts and Crafts Movement become widely known in America. Parenthetically, evidence of work attributable to Arts and Crafts activity in America existed for years prior to the formal founding of formal organizations, such as the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston in 1897 : -- see the discussion of Charles Godfrey Leland activities -- as "student" of Morris' precepts in an extended visit to England and later in implementing Morris ideas in a Philadelphia school

Moreover, Chicago, the hub in America of much avant garde architecture, was among the earliest and perhaps most important centers of Arts and Crafts activity in the nation.

For evidence see: M. T. Priestman's 1906 account:-- "History of the Arts and Crafts Move­ment in America" House Beautiful 20 1906, page 14. This article appeared in two parts: Oct. (pp. 5-16) and Nov. (pp. 14-16) 1906.

Table below has fragemnt from Priestman articles:

Impact:-- Arts and Crafts Movements in America in the First Decade of the 20th Century

When she shifts her focus to America, Priestman concentrates on organizations devoted to exhibitions of craft works. For her, a rural setting is the ideal for handicraft activities.

She singles out for discussion the Chalk and Chisel Club of Minneapolis, begun in 1895 and reorganized as the Arts and Crafts Society of Minneapolis in 1899. Significantly, the Club was launched by "ladies" for "study" in wood­carving and design.

For accounts, see Mary Corbin Sies, "The Shelter Magazines and Standards of American Domestic Architectural Taste in the East & Midwest, 1897-1917", not online, this is a paper delivered at the American Studies Association annual meeting, November 1983, page 19; and the online version of Michael Conforti's Minnesota 1900: Art and Life on the Uper Mississippi, 1890-1915, page 141

Additional ladies receive the lion's share of Priestman's attention in her description of the crafts on view from throughout the nation in the 1901 Minneapolis exhibition.

Undoubtedly informed by Max West's 1904 "report on handicrafts", she praises two New England craft collaboratives, initiated and staffed by women, as exem­plary village industries employing "country people": in singling out the New Hampshire-made Abnakee Rugs and the colonial embroideries fashioned by the Deerfield Soci­ety of Blue and White Needlework, its as if Priestman is in­voking the spirit of John Ruskin for his attempt to re-establsh English lacemaking as a cottage industry. (Although not online, unfortunately, Chapter 7 of Allen Eaton's Handicrafts of New England extensively covers this topic.)

David Gebhard, "C. F. A. Voysey- to and from America", The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 30, No. 4 December 1971, pages 304-312

Arthur H. Mackmurdo (1851-1942)

cross-section for four-sided post

A Scottish architect and designer who set up in London in 1875, he was influenced by William Morris and subsequently became a pioneer of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In advance of trends, in the 1880s, Mackmurdo's influence was evident on the European Continent.From 1884 to 1891, Mackmurdo edited The Hobby Horse, the prototype for later, similar "trend-setter" magazines like The Yellow Book and The Studio.

mackintosh drawing room

In 1880 he founded the Century Guild, a group of artist—craftsmen which included Selwyn Image (1849­-1930) and William de Morgan (1832-1911). In 1884, with Herbert Home, he started the magazine The Hobby Horse, a focus of the new art movement.

Paste below needs much distilling and editing

Let us first examine the question of Voysey's possible effect on United States architecture.

A survey of American publications of the 1880s, '1890s, and 1900s shows that Voysey's architectural and other designs are not plentiful. His first design in an American journal, a perspective draw­ing for the Cazalet house (Malvern, 1890), came out in the American Architect and Building News 30 November 1890, page 71, including plate 774; cited source noted above and in David Gebhard, Charles F. A. Voysey, architect 1975, Los Angeles: Hennessey and Ingalls, 1975, page 11. In addition to this article, Gebhard reports on several others, but with lesser impact.

In 1899, one of his houses was illustrated and discussed in an article, "A House for a Man with a Hobby," in the popular magazine House Beau­tiful 7 December 1899, pages 24-27.

Of more interest for woodworkers is this article was followed by two pieces de­voted to his furniture The Furnisher New York, 1899), n.p. [ill request, wed sept 22]

In the popular press, several of his pieces of furniture are both illustrated and discussed: the April 1903 issue of House and Garden, as "Some Recent Work of C. F. A. Voysey, an English Ar­chitect" (Fig. 3), and in Edward W. Gregory's "The Sev­enth Exhibition of Arts and Crafts in London."11 The first article was at best lukewarm, the second was quite enthusi­astic: "Mr. Voysey occupies a position in decorative arts entirely to himself. He has had many followers and is un­questionably a designer of singular originality and power ." 12 [12. House and Garden, Iii, 211.]

Voysey in The Craftsman

Another sympathetic treatment of Voysey's work oc­curred in two issues of The Craftsman magazine, one an article on his furniture and interiors in August 1911 (Fig. 4) and the other an article by the architect himself, accom­panied by a number of illustrations of his work, in Novem­ber 1912.13[13. The Craftsman, xx (Aug. 1911), 276-286; The Craftsman, xxm (Nov. 1912), 174-182.]

Special furniture designed for individual homes: illustrated by the work of C. F. A. Voysey, pp. 476-486

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Page View

The craftsman
(October 1911)

Gregory, Edward W.
Modern furniture, the work of English craftsmen,   pp. 89-95

Page 89

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