Morris & Co. | 160 years of print magic
William Morris - artist, craftsman, environmentalist and socialist - was one of the most prominent and influential designers of the 19th century. A William Morris print is so much more than what can be seen with the naked eye. Each creation hides millennia of craft traditions, because Morris believed the process of creating a product was just as important as how it was used.
Today, William Morris's treasure trove of prints is managed by Morris & Co. We sat down with Eleanor Tyerman, Senior Designer at Morris & Co. to talk about their commitment to preserving the craft tradition, how they maintain the integrity of their iconic design portfolio and how preservation and development always go hand in hand when creating new products or entering into collaborations.
How would you describe William Morris's creative process when making prints?
For me, William Morris's design is defined by all the shapes he has chosen to use. His designs are so much more than just flowery prints - they are a living presentation of his hopes for and beliefs about the world. Morris's great passion was creating beautiful and well-made objects for everyday use.
What makes your prints as relevant today as they were 160 years ago?
We at Morris & Co. usually say we're "Lovingly Crafted since 1861". This sums up our commitment to the preservation of craft traditions, the great respect we have for the materials we use and that we always go back to our archive to create new products. We are in constant contact with the past so that we can create beautiful prints for the future.
William Morris's history and heritage, as well as the nostalgia of his designs, is a perfect fit for today's growing group of consumers who value handmade products and genuine craftsmanship. We love seeing the maximalist trend being brought back to life and we encourage everyone, from beginners to experts, to fill their homes with beautiful designs.
Tell us about the prints in the Morris & Co. x Mille Notti design collaboration
Strawberry Thief is one of William Morris's most famous and popular patterns, created in 1883. The inspiration for the print comes from true events that took place at his countryside home. There, Morris tried to grow strawberries, but it always ended with the entire harvest being devoured by greedy birds.
Marigold is a beautiful flower pattern print, designed by William Morris in 1875. It’s one of the few patterns he initially produced as both wallpaper and fabric.
Honeysuckle & Tulip was created in 1876 and is an early fabric design by Morris & Co. depicting intertwined foliage and floral motifs in mirrored formations. The small details among the large floral motifs make it an incredibly well-balanced work. It's definitely a print that makes you look more closely.
Pimpernel, also a design from 1876, has a swirling pattern with complex structures – it almost seems to come dancing towards you. It's incredibly interesting and dynamic. William Morris even chose this pattern himself when he decorated his dining room at Kelmscott House.
What should you consider when decorating with prints – can you combine different prints?
It's a lot of fun to mix and match different prints but sometimes it can be a bit much. Keep to a clear colour palette when you're decorating a room. The goal is to create a vibe where the different colours complement each other instead of being messy. My best tips for small print designs is to use simple accents to break them up and create space.
How do you view development and conservation – how do you develop your brand while preserving and using your original designs?
We've been creating for 160 years. For lots of companies this could cause difficulties when coming up with something new, but instead we use our long history to increase our creativity! Our archive is our designers' number one favourite tool. That's where the beautiful and timeless William Morris patterns are located in safe custody – ready to show us the way forward. The archive is a living dialogue of different patterns and a proud reminder of our heritage.
The task for us at Morris & Co. is to best manage William Morris's original company and we strive to uphold his ethos and distinguished aesthetic in everything we do. Guided daily by Morris' creative intuition, we honour his legacy in the present by producing authentic versions of his original designs alongside new interpretations inspired by the treasures in our archive.
Is there a typical Morris & Co. customer?
The typical Morris & Co. customer loves designs drawn from older eras and appreciates genuine craftsmanship and the quality of British design. They're often interested in ”The Arts and Crafts Movement” and consider their purchases carefully. They like the feeling of being able to hold a piece of history in their hands.
At the same time, we see that even the slightly more modern consumers have a great interest in Morris & Co. The new craft enthusiast is interested in what's "in" on a purely visual level, has great self-confidence when it comes to aesthetics, and is passionate about their creative hobbies. They choose Morris & Co. to enjoy timeless design that matches their contemporary values.
How do you create a successful design collaboration?
A successful collaboration is about working together with someone who has the same values and ethos as yourself. At Morris & Co. these values revolve around sustainability: to maintain the integrity of our iconic design portfolio and use responsibly sourced materials and traditional techniques to create products that last.
Finally, what do you think our customers will dream about when they make their beds with Morris & Co. x Mille Notti?
They will dream of a walk among the willows, they will dream of the gardens that Morris loved to be in, and the river Thames that was always present in his thoughts.