Appendix 38: Impact on Furniture Design With Emergence of Vernacular/Organic Architecture


Until I discovered the 1905 The English House, a 3-volume set, by the German, Hermann Muthesius, I wasn't sufficiently sensitive to how, in America, the taste for Arts and Crafts architecture and design was shaped.

As the Arts and Crafts movement matured in Britain -- by turning its attention on the middle-class home -- it achieved a greater sense of domestic grace and coherence. Part of its achieving grace and coherence emerged out of the dropping of the overbearing Gothic symbolism, giving way to a more manageable conception of domestic pleasures.

Inspired by a sheltering visage of the cottage and the farmhouse, the Arts and Crafts house started to symbolize warmth and protection, informality and welcome. Rural traditions, vernacular architecture, local materials -- these were the elements employed by British architect-designers such as A. H. Mackmurdo, C. F. A. Voysey, M H Baillie-Scott, and C. R. Mackintosh, and others.

The goal: situate a building within its surrounding landscape, enhance the ornamental role of the builllding's structural elements, the latter a goal achieved at the time by rough-cast stucco, tile-hanging, shingles, half-timbering, pat­terned brickwork, and mullioned and leaded windows. Moreover, these designers did not limit themselves simply to the "house", but envisaged their role from a broader perspective, a perspective that included the interior and it furnishings, and thus could be said to be designing "homes", not simply houses, a theme that among the four architect-designers, at least Baillie-Scott, for one, argued.

In the history of architecture and the applied arts during the latter half of the nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth century, scholars distinguish two main poles of orientation:

Pole 1. Historical, or, for scholars, more precisely "Historicism", roughly defined as "all the varied forms of expression within the architecture and applied art of the nineteenth century based on previous styles and the historical Einleben", or Gestalt.)

Pole 2. This is the "Modern" movement, roughly defined as an attempt toward "a clean sweep of the historical, ruthlessly removing all ornaments, and allowing a construction and a rational form to emerge, with attention toward the exploitating the special qualities of the material, and an honesty in the use of the materials, but trying not to neglect any aesthetic considerations".

In this polar model, both in time and in development, the Art Nouveau and Aesthetic styles fall somewhere between the two poles

For example, in his perceptive Sources of Art Nouveau (1956), Stephan Tschudi Madsen seeks to

"investigate the background of Art Nouveau, and to discover how and why the style arose, as well as which formal elements contributed to shape it ... to determine how it developed and subsequently declined, and . . . to place the style in its proper European context."

Madsen's book is broader than the title -- Sources of Art Nouveau -- implies, but is, actually, a history of Art Nouveau and early Arts and Crafts.

In his selection and evaluation of his material, Madsen rejects the use of "the aesthetic yardstick of the twentieth century". If we are to use such a yardstick, he says,

the verdict will of necessity be based on false premises, for the reason that the artists of that [earlier] age strove to attain ideals which were the opposite of those of our own age. If we are to attempt to evaluate the age and its objects, we must be familiar with the peculiar feeling for form of the nineteenth century and be capable of appreciating it. The term "function" and its application alone give some idea of the gulf that separates the two ages: during the latter half of the nineteenth century function was expressed through decoration—in the first half of the twentieth century it is expressed through construction.

Among the primary players in this drama is the architect-designer, Edward William Godwin (1833-1886), who's contributions -- especially in furniture design -- span from the neo-Gothic, Queen Anne, Art Nouveau, Aesthetic, and Arts and Crafts.

Interestingly, Madsen looks at the

"principles which have crystallized in Europe's centuries-old tradition of handicrafts," and

"the nineteenth century's own special scale of values."

Madsen argues

that "during the latter half of the nineteenth century function was expressed through decoration -- in the first half of the twentieth century function is expressed through construction."

Sources: In 1945 Dudley Harbron published the first scholarly essay on Edward William Godwin in Architectural Review, marking a turning point in Godwin studies; later in the decade, Harbron followed with a modest-sized biographical study. The Conscious Stone: The Life of Edward William Godwin London: Latimer House, 1949; in the 1940s-1950s, other studies followed, each looking at this theme of tension between handicraft design and machine design through a variety of lens: Henry R. Hope, "[review]", The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 16, No. 3 (Mar., 1958); Alf Boe, From Gothic Revival to Funcitional Form: A Study in Victorian theories of DesignOslo: University Press; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957; Clay Lancaster, "Oriental Contributions to Art Nouveau", The Art Bulletin 34, No. 4 December 1952, page 299; variations on these themes are in siefried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command New York: Oxford University Press, 1947, pages 482 and following; and Walter Dorwin Teague, Design This Day Chapter 4, "Fitness to Function", London: Studio Publications, 1949

Distinguishing Between Architectural Camps:

not "rational structure" for the meaning needed for arts and crafts -- Adrian Forty's book not online. illus

rational structures

At the beginning of the nineteenth century -- in Europe, following the French Revolution of 1789-1793 -- was an era of political and cultural turmoil: the rise of Napoleon, and the restoration of the Bourbons. Architecture, and ultimately furniture design, was characterized by a search for new styles, to better reflect the changing times and the quest for "Empire" architecture.

Definition of rational structure in Adrain Forty, Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture, 2000. the link, evidently, it the French architect Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-­le-Duc (1814-1879 -- see appendix 11

A "battle" developed between two camps, each espousing, a different approach to the syntheses of forms, the use of building materials, which, consequently, lead to differences in building styles.

One camp -- represented by the French Ecole des Beaux arts, the first formalized schools of architecture -- espousing romantic-classicism and eclecticism. See image on right.

The other camp comprised rationalists who favored a more "organic" approach to architecture, among them Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin and John Ruskin in England, Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc in France.

The Arts and Crafts Movement and Other Early 20th Century Secular Architecture

The ARTS-AND-CRAFTS MOVEMENT was of particular importance to the Gloucestershire Cotswolds in the early 20th century. It demonstrates a clear line of development from Pugin's emphasis on the integrity of building, through Ruskin's ideas on creative work and the relationship of landscape and building, to the social and moral gospel expounded by William Morris and Philip Webb.

It is not surprising that vernacular buildings such as those of the Cotswold region, what Webb called

"the common tradition of honest building",

should eventually become a major focus. The preservation of noteworthy buildings led to the foundation, in 1877, of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAR), which became a prime agent for the dissemination of Morris and Webb's ideas. Enthusiastic members included Ernest Gimson, W. R. Lethaby, C. R. Ashbee, Delmar Blow, Alfred Powell, and Ernest and Sidney Barnsley. As Lethaby wrote:

It is a curious fact that this Society, engaged in an intense study of antiquity, became a school of rational builders and modem building.

The Art Workers' Guild, founded in 1884 with the intent of breaking down barriers between architects and craftsmen, helped to ensure that minor traditional buildings were also valued for their intrinsic merit. It was also Morris who probably first drew the attention of architects and artists to the Cotswolds....

Source: David Verey and Alan Brooks, Gloucestershire, Part l, Yale: Yale University Press, 1979 page 113

The Ecole des Beaux-Arts. which was established in 1816 by the French Academy for the formal training of young architects (as opposed to the apprenticeship method practiced elsewhere), approached design synthesis as a mapping of the functional requirements of buildings onto abstract, symmetrical geometric patterns, called partis (fig. 12.6), which were consequently "dressed up in an eclectic repertoire of classical forms.

Initially this approach was considered as "revolutionary" as the new Republic itself. But later, with the changing political climate and under the influence of Durand, Beaux Arts educated architects in France, Germany, and elsewhere began to rely on both precedents and ornamen­tation, developing a thoroughly formalistic style that included 1101 only the design of the buildings themselves hut their presentations .is well Their design process, consisting of composition, distribution. and dispo­sition, reflected this philosophy.

The rationalists, on the other hand, advocated design synthesis based "organic" form, which would represent the true functional needs of the building. Their model was Gothic architecture. with its clearly expressed force-transferring ribbed Vaults and flying buttresses that were conceived to fulfill a functional program. which Viollet-le-­Duc (who was in charge' of historical restoration of Gothic churches in France, most noticeably Notre-Dame de Paris), regarded as the ideal ratio­nal structure. Inspired by this pragmatic architecture, he developed new principles and innovative ideas that were published in his two major treatises:

Entretiens and the Dictionnaire raisonne de l'achitecture francaise

Source: Yehuda E. Kalay, Architecture's New Media: Principles, Theories, and Methods of Computer-Aided Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004, pages 229-230.

Organic Architecture

The term "organic architecture" was coined in the 19th century by William Morris -- Gothic architecture London: Kelmscott Press, 1893 -- to describe both Gothic architecture and the architecture that he hoped would grow out of it by throwing off "the pedantic encumbrances" of applied style, that is, ornament, evolving its forms "in the spirit of strict truthfulness, following the conditions of use, material and construction", or, in simple terms, "truth to materials".

These ideas and practices -- the architect seeing his role broadened beyond simply house design, to also embrace interior design and furniture -- trace back in the 19th century. In the latter-part of the nineteenth century, the Gothic Revival architects mentioned above are important in establishing and helping spread the Gothic style, and of a new approach to furniture design.

The term that we use to characterize the practice is "organic architecture".

Historically, as concept, organic architecture traces back well into the 19th century, and maybe even centuries before, because -- as technology advances, connotatively, what is meant by organic architecture changes. For the american architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, a definiton of organic architecture pivots on the machine. [see frank lloyd wright on arhitecture and david a hanks, the decorative designs of flw, pp 7-8]

Edward William Godwin, as one example of the architect-designers that emerged into the limelight in Britain during that momentous revolutionary shift from neo-Gothic to Arts and Crafts,

"saw art as a unity and claimed for the architect the right to design furniture and interior decorations"

Source: Alf Boe, page 129.

As a theme that I started above, rather than designing a "house", Wright designed "homes". That is, in much like today's idiom: "a 'turn-key' operation", where it is possible to contract for a project where, when the project is completed by the contractor, the owner simply unlocks the door with a key and proceeds to begin operations -- clients of Wright contracted for a home, a home filled with furniture and appliances, all of which were planned/built by or for Wright. However, because Wright practiced architecture on the threshold of the age of mass-produced-by-machine furniture, organic architecture seemed "natural". While organic architecture could be practiced before the turn of the century, the term would not have the same resonance because all of the architect-designed furniture would -- very labor-intensively -- necessarily be built by hand. For Wright, the machine was his salvation, and he took advantage of the machine by designing houses and furniture with rectinlinear horizonital and vertical components, definitely forms that machines, rather than using hand tools, make much easier to fabricate.

The ideas struck by these British architect-designers were absorbed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and Greene and Greene in America, or Eliel Saarinen in Finland. (For our narrative, it was the creative drive of these four architect-designers that had such a forceful and lasting impact upon Gustav Stickley and/or Stickley's designer associates, especially Lamont Warner and Harvey Ellis.)

I was informed by Rodel and Binzen's Taunton Press Book

Only then -- belatedly -- did the masterful account -- laid out in text and colored images -- of the Arts and Crafts "movements" -- both yesterday and today -- by Kevin P. Rodel and Jonathon Binzen in their Arts and Crafts Furniture: From Classic to Contemporary -- begin to have an impact. The forces from which these ideals materialized in Britain were provided largely by architects. But along with Rodel and Binzen -- who don't document their sources -- major biographies by James Kornwolf on the British architect-designer, M H Baillie-Scott, Wendy Mitchmough on the British architect-designer, C F A Voysey, and David Cathers, on Gustav Stickley, chronicle and document the fertile fields in Britain that Gustav Stickley and other American furniture designers and manufacturers exploited for ideas in the 1890s and 1910s. The accounts of Voysey and Baillie-Scott's contributions -- especially on furniture design -- are discussed below; Cathers' narrative of how Voysey and his contemporaries are discussed here

First Vernacular Architecture To Include Specially-Designed Furniture is Philip Webb's 1859 Red House for William Morris

[image on p 31 of pevsner, 1949; image of interior on page 98 of anscombe, 1991] Philip Webb's Red House -- built in 1859 for William Morris and specifically designed to create an environment for a modern family -- is the first house to break with the neo-gothicism of the nineteenth century. Afterwards -- according to Isabelle Anscombe -- Webb was "never satisfied with a building until it began to look commonplace", a concept meaning that decorative elements are reserved and understated, with many built-in cupboards, sideboards and benches.

Revivalist Queen Anne Meets Anglo-Japanese

norman shaw chair 1876

In 1859 William Morris's Red House -- designed by Philip Webb and furnished down to the last dessert fork by Morris and his circle -- elaborated on many of these same ideas. This Hampton Court chair was produced by Morris & Co., -- its in the Morris & Company 1910 catalog -- after Morris himself had died, and when the company's furniture became increasingly revivalist; cf Jeremy Cooper, Victorian and Edwardian Furniture and Interiors: From the Gothic Revival to Art Nouveau London: Thames and Hudson, who claims this Hampton Court chair is similar to those used by Shaw in the Tabard Inn at Bedford Park-- the chair thought possibly deigned by William Lethaby, an architect associated with Shaw at the time. On the right is a Morris look-alike, from the 1880s:

william morris Hampton Court chair 1880s torri_dresser_1882

First, we are very used to seeing the middle section of the back rest -- ie, between the posts -- in a vase shape, following the typical Queen Anne style. In this "Hampton Court" chair, this same component is definitely rectangular. More perplexing is the stretcher at the top of the back rest, stablilizing the two back posts. Rather than dipping down in the middle -- as does the stretcher in the Hampton Court chair, in the British traditon of designing a Queen Anne chair, the practice is the opposite, where the middle of the stretcher reaches upward -- will get an illus.

A critical look at this chair shows several other obvious features, features that give it an an Anglo-Japanese look. Popular at this time were the numerous volumes of Hokusai images from Edo Japan, i.e., before the "Westernization" of Japan, when begun about 1850. In numerous Hokusai prints, is the image of the "torri" arch.

In 1876, a famous British designer, Christopher Dresser, visited the Philadelphia Exhibition, and from there went to Japan, where he travelled extensively in 1877, representing the British Government and also collecting Japanese objects for Tiffany & Co. of New York. Much of Dresser’s subsequent work was informed by his appreciation of Japanese design.

In 1882, Dresser published his Japan: Its Architecture, Art and Art Manufactures London, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1882, page 140. Dresser's book -- the result of an extensive tour of Japan, again before the penetration of Western ideas and products changed aspects of their culture and architecture -- captured the popular imagination in Britain.

A second source -- this time American -- is Edward S. Morse, Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings, published in 1883, but reflect accounts by Morse during visits to Japan between 1877 and 1882.

Morse's book -- still available in a Dover reprint -- includes numerous images, including these two: morse_gateway_arch_1_1877 morse_gateway_arch2_1877

These two images from Morse generate interest, because they show different shapes for the over-raaching arches, one where the arch's ends of the arch thrust upward, the second where the ends of the arch thrust downward. Again, these are the types of images available through the Hokasai volumes of prints, widely circulated among London's art crowd in the 1850s and later.

In 1901 Philip Webb retired to the country and ceased practising. He continued to be an influence on the "school of rational builders" surrounding William Lethaby, and Ernest Gimson and his community of architect-craftsmen based at Sapperton in Gloucestershire.


Another designer who developed an was C. F. A. Voysey. His own house, The Orchard, built at Chorley Wood, Hert­fordshire, in 1900, showed a more restrained style with little surface decoration, relying mainly on a juxtaposition of lines and the qualities of wood.

English architect and furniture designer, who -- after training from J. P. Seddon -- set up practice in 1882. In 1884, he joined the Art Workers' Guild and soon linked to the Arts and Crafts Movement. His first exhibition of furniture was at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, 1893. Widely imitated by designers abroad, he stressed tradition and his furni­ture was austere and straight-lined, sparingly ornamented in plain oak. He pioneered simplicity in interior decoration, perhaps best exemplified in the dining-room, The Orchard, Chorley Wood, 1900.

Source: Adapted from Harold Osborne, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts Oxford, England: Oxford University Press 1975.

Charles F. A. Voysey is long acknowledged as a major influence in the development of modern architecture. In the 1890s, for example, news of his work was widely published in Europe, and he and his fellow Brits -- Charles Rennie Mackintosh and M. H. Baillie Scott -- contributed significantly to the formation of the new school of architecture that emerged in Austria and Germany in the 1890s and early 1900s. [include bauhaus?]

Architectural historian, David Gebhard, claims in his 1971 article -- "G. F. A. Voysey — To and From America," that, in America, rather than one direction, a reciprocal exchange transpired -- [need more]

The three British architects did not limit themselves to designing buildings only. No, instead, they saw it as their purview to also design furniture [not about ? considering the furnishings in rooms loomed as a role for the architect, ie, "how is the house to become a home" for the clients, a sentiment that includes issues like, "what is the furniture?" And "where in the room does the furniture go?"

Voysey, along with his contemporary M.H. Baillie Scott helped to encourage some of the innovation in the 1890s and early 1900s of Frank Lloyd Wright and other members of the Prairie School.

C F A Voysey and M H Baillie Scott in International Studio

voysey dining room

Characteristics of C. F. A. Voysey's architecture. International Studio 33 November 1907 pages 19-24.

Davey, P., reviewer C. F. A. Voysey (Book Review); Baillie Scott (Book Review). The Architectural Review 198 December 1995, page 96.

M H Baillie Scott, "On the Choice of Simple Furniture", The International studio 1 1897, pages 152-156

to be entered later: From david a hanks, the decorative designs of flw, ny: dutton, 1979, pages 1-10, where ch 1 is “the development of ornament”, and p 7 has much on flw and organic architecture, and some details about what events llead up to flw embracing organic architecture.

from oxford art online, entry "organic architecture":

Term that implies a connection of architecture with nature, adopted from the 19th century but later applied with different meanings by a number of architects. At the most naive level it has been used to describe buildings whose forms resemble or imitate plants and animals and which might more accurately be called biomorphic. This was not, however, the use of the term intended by such proponents as Frank Lloyd Wright and Hugo Häring. Their interest lay in the inner processes of nature and the relation between these processes and the forms produced. This interpretation derives essentially from the view of nature proposed in Charles Darwin’s 19th-century theory of evolution; the adaptation of organs and organisms to specific purposes and circumstances, which was the root of functionalist ideas in many fields (see Functionalism).

The term ‘organic’ was also used in the 19th century by William Morris to describe both Gothic architecture and the architecture that he hoped would grow out of it by throwing off ‘the pedantic encumbrances’ of applied style, evolving its forms ‘in the spirit of strict truthfulness, following the conditions of use, material and construction’ (Zevi, 1945). Morris reiterated the ideas of A. W. N. Pugin and John Ruskin, the principal theorists of the Gothic Revival. A line of descent can be traced between Morris and other later architects, beginning with the Arts and Crafts architecture of Philip Webb, C. F. A. Voysey and W. R. Lethaby—the so-called English Free Style. It was influential abroad, leading to the work of Wright and Louis Sullivan via the Shingle style; to Häring, Hans Scharoun and Erich Mendelsohn via the work of Henry Van de Velde and Hermann Muthesius; and to Alvar Aalto via the National Romanticism of Eliel Saarinen and Lars Sonck. This architecture was notable for its informality, functional and aggregative planning and adaptation to local conditions.

The ascendancy of the Gothic Revival over Neo-classicism at a time of British imperial expansion represented the casting off of the Latin yoke in favour of a style seen as indigenous; the vernacular sources used later by Arts and Crafts architects had the same implication. These arguments, still raging at the turn of the century in Europe and the USA, influenced pioneering Modernists at an impressionable age, who later reformulated them as the polarity between organic architecture and International Style Modernism. Some historians took up this debate in the period following World War II when attempting to broaden the narrow definition of Modernism, and, with the appearance of Verso un’architettura organica (1945) by Bruno Zevi (b1918), which stressed parallels in the work of Wright and Aalto, an alternative Modernist tradition was posited, which retained its currency. This tended to stress content as opposed to form, substance as opposed to style, the specific as opposed to the universal and above all the integration of a building with its contents and context.

The main American theorist of organic architecture was Frank Lloyd Wright. He wrote an essay entitled ‘Organic Architecture’ (Kaufmann and Raeburn) in 1910 and thereafter called his work organic.


H. Häring: ‘Wege zur Form’, Die Form, 1 (1925), pp. 3–5

F. L. Wright: An Organic Architecture: The Architecture of Democracy (London, 1939/R London and Cambridge, MA, 1970)

B. Zevi: Verso un’architettura organica (Turin, 1945; Eng. trans., London, 1950)

E. Kaufmann and B. Raeburn: Frank Lloyd Wright: Writings and Buildings (New York, 1960)

J. Joedicke and H. Lauterbach: Hugo Häring: Schriften, Entwürfe, Bauten (Stuttgart, 1964)

"Organic Response", Architecture Review [London], clxxvii/1060 (1985) [special issue]