Designer William Morris

Brilliant artist and designer William Morris is truly one of history's unsung heroes. Even today, his far-reaching influence can be seen in our furnishings, wallpaper and fabric designs.

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William Morris at 30.

by Anne Krueger

"Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." — William Morris

Why should today's home enthusiast care about William Morris? Furniture, wallpaper and fabric design wouldn't be the same without his influence. Born in England in 1834, Morris grew up to be a brilliant innovator in the field of decorative arts and crafts, turning away from the mass production of the day and relying heavily on the influences of nature and the beauty of hand craftsmanship.

Today's affordable designs and emphasis on "organic" or "natural" style can be traced back 150 years to William Morris. Because he was a socialist, Morris believed everybody could enjoy and appreciate beautiful things and should have access to them. Because he was a nature lover, the natural world was one of his most frequent subjects.

Say William Morris and most people think of his gorgeous intertwining designs of birds and florals, which he sometimes drew from the views outside his Sussex home's windows. They are still sold today on textiles and wallpapers from Liberty of London and Sanderson and Sons in Britain, in needlepoint kits and on carpets.

But Morris did so much more than just create from nature. He was a preservationist and protector of all things green, well before his time. And a protector of women's and workers' rights, as well. He and a group called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood turned their backs on what they considered to be inhumane and shoddy industrialism and encouraged craftspeople of both genders and craftsmanship of all kinds. Morris believed in quality of work and life for himself and his workers and fought for the eight-hour workday, unheard of in industrial England.

Morris himself was relentless in his pursuit of high-quality handmade furnishings and art. He learned to embroider, to carve from wood blocks to make woodprints, to paint with watercolors, to use natural dyes, to print books and to weave. He designed furniture, stained-glass windows, tiles, typefaces, carpets—all manner of things both useful and beautiful—things that we still enjoy and appreciate today.

For more information, visit the William Morris Society website ( and the William Morris Gallery (

Anne Krueger is the editor of's Decorating newsletter. She has written for In Style, This Old House, Martha Stewart Living and The New York Times.

Daisy was one of William Morris's early designs.
An original William Morris carpet in a Massachusetts home.

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