William Morris was born on March 24, 1834, (1834–1896) in Walthamstow, England. He was the third child of William Morris Sr. and Emma Shelton Morris. He enjoyed an idyllic childhood in the countryside, playing with his siblings, reading books, writing, and showing an early interest in nature and storytelling. His love of the natural world would have a growing influence on his later work.
At an early age he was attracted to all the trappings of the medieval period. At 4 he began reading Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, which he finished by the time he was 9. His father gave him a pony and a miniature suit of armor and, dressed as a tiny knight, he went off on long quests into the nearby forest.
Later Morris attended Marlborough and Exeter colleges, where he met painter Edward Burne-Jones and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, forming a group known as the Brotherhood, or the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They shared a love of poetry, the Middle Ages, and Gothic architecture, and they read the works of philosopher John Ruskin. They also developed an interest in the Gothic Revival architectural style. Their Group was inspired by Ruskin’s writings.
The Industrial Revolution that began in Britain had turned the country into something unrecognizable to the young men. Ruskin wrote about society’s ills in books such as “The Seven Lamps of Architecture” and “The Stones of Venice.” The group discussed Ruskin’s themes about the impacts of industrialization: how machines dehumanize, how industrialization ruins the environment, and how mass production creates shoddy, unnatural objects.
The group believed that the artistry and honesty in handcrafted materials were missing in British machine-made goods. They longed for an earlier time.
Visits to the continent spent touring cathedrals and museums solidified Morris’ love of medieval art. Rossetti persuaded him to give up architecture for painting, and they joined a band of friends decorating the walls of the Oxford Union with scenes from the Arthurian legend based on “Le Morte d’Arthur” by 15th century English writer Sir Thomas Malory. Morris also wrote much poetry during this time.
After receiving his degree in 1856, Morris took a job in the Oxford office of G.E. Street, a Gothic Revivalist architect. That year he financed the first 12 monthly issues of The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, where a number of his poems were printed. Two years later, many of these poems were reprinted in his first published work “The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems.”
Also known as a writer and poet, translator, social activist, printer and dyer, Morris originally trained as an architect and had early ambitions to become a painter.Morris commissioned Philip Webb, an architect he had met in Street’s office, to build a home for him and his wife. The building’s design was a co-operative effort, with Morris focusing on the interiors and the exterior being designed by Webb, for whom the House represented his first commission as an independent architect. Named after the red bricks and red tiles from which it was constructed, Red House rejected architectural norms by being L-shaped. Influenced by various forms of contemporary Neo-Gothic architecture, the House was nevertheless unique, with Morris describing it as “very mediaeval in spirit”. Situated within an orchard, the house and garden were intricately linked in their design. It took a year to construct.
In fact William Morris often said that when looking into his wallpaper designs they should appear to be 3 inches deep. This illusion of depth was created by his clever use of floral and fauna. He would layer these images to make it seem as if there was space beyond. So by using William Morris wallpaper you may even make a room feel a bit bigger .
The house, a grand yet simple structure, exemplified the Arts and Crafts philosophy inside and out, with craftsman-like workmanship and traditional, unornamented design. Then, together with some of his Pre-Raphaelite friends he furnished and decorated the new abode. It was such an enjoyable experience that they decided to set up their own company in London supplying a range of domestic furnishings — embroidery, tableware, furniture, stained glass and tiles (initially called Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co — later simply Morris & Co). It was also because of his inability to find wallpapers that he liked enough for his own home that Morris turned his hand to designing his own, and these were added to the company catalogue.