Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Simply Red House

One of my enduring passions is the architecture and designs of the English Arts and Crafts Movement. Feeding this fascination, I visited Red House last week. This is one of the finest examples of Arts and Crafts homes in Britain and certainly one of the oldest.

Built between 1858 and 1860 by Phillip Webb for the celebrated artist and designer William Morris it emerged during the height of the popularity for Pugin/Gothic that was the prevailing architectural style of the time.

The house is in Bexleyheath in Kent and is today surrounded on all sides by 20th century suburbia but the gardens of the house are still substantial and the plan and plantings are little altered since Morris, his wife Jane and his friends Dante-Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal and Edward Burne-Jones frequented the house. It was Burne-Jones who described the house as “the beautifullest place on earth”.

The house is an outstanding example of Arts & Crafts. Although currently sparsely furnished (it does not have examples of Morris’s famous fabric and wallpaper designs) it is the architectural detail, the decorated elements; the ceilings, murals, handcrafted stairs, stained glass and doors that make this building so special. There is an air of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s decorative style too and the ubiquitous hand-crafted “one off”, not mass-produced detail.

The design by Phillip Webb tries to show a house older than it is – that has been altered and extended over time, to have organically grown, while in reality it is one construction.

The house recently came under the care of the National Trust but on a day to day basis cared for by the Friends of Red House. These people are all highly knowledgeable about Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. If you visit, any question you may have about the house will be answered with a depth of knowledge only possible from true enthusiasts.

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