Sunday, 5 June 2011

Si je puis*

* If I can -
William Morris's motto, seen below in a stained glass window 
at Red House, the home he had designed for him 
by Philip Webb, when he was only 26.

'The beautifullest place on earth,' said Edward Burne-Jones.

It was set in the middle of a Kentish orchard, 
sited so that apples fell in at the windows 
as they stood open on hot autumn nights.

The only items that Morris would buy for the house 
were Persian carpets and Delft china, 
so it became the focus of intense communal effort by Webb, 
who designed tables, chairs, cupboards, shelves, candlesticks, 
fireirons, catches and hinges;

Morris and his wife Jane, who embroidered hangings, 
frescoed ceilings, hand painted tiles, 
painted cupboard doors and stained glass, 
(but not the birds -
Webb had to do those for him);

 and Rossetti and Burne-Jones who supplied stained glass and paintings.

Rossetti said that it was,
'more a poem than a house, but admirable to live in too.'
In truth it was too hot in the west-facing kitchen in summer, 
and too cold with its north facing aspect in winter -
not helped by the inadequate size of the coal cellar.

Sadly, the house was only home for six years.
The plan to build two more wings 
to accommodate the Burne-Jones family
never materialised and financial problems meant 
that he had to sell in 1865 for £1800 - 
well short of the £4000 that it had cost to build.
He never visited the Red House again.

Despite the unhappiness occasioned by 
his wife Jane's long affair with Rossetti
I prefer to think of the early happy times
 when he would drive three miles through the
rose-hung lanes of woody Kent, 
in the wagonette designed by Webb, 
to collect his friends from the station
for a weekend of house decorating, 
bowls in the garden, hide and seek 
and singing round the piano.

His 'can do' attitude to life should be an inspiration
and instead of my usual lament 'tempus fugit',
it might be as well to adopt the more galvanising
' ars longa, vita brevis' in future.


  1. What a beautiful place, the details are delicious.

  2. Super post. I found myself "clicking" on the photo of the door plate, what a beautiful one..........

  3. Hello Lucille:
    How wonderful all of this is and we do so envy your having visited the Red House, somewhere very much at the top of our list of places to visit.

    You probably know of Standen, another of Philip Webb's houses, and now owned by the National Trust, which is one of our all time favourites. And then there is Cragside, also of the same period. Oh, so much to see!

    We have so enjoyed this post. Thank you for showing it all.

  4. I want to go there! Quite right to think of Morris and his wife having happy times there.

  5. Yes I know and love Standen. We used to go there all the time with the children.
    Harriet: I would love to go to Bere island. My father used to pass me his copy of the Chiltern Seeds catalogue. I'm glad to hear it still has no pictures.

  6. I love houses that are built like this by an artist with a clear vision of how life could be more beautiful . Morris was the master , of course , but Charles Rennie Macintosh's house is stunning too . And Berlage's buildings .....

  7. What a grand tour this is ... so much vision for such a young man.