Whatever you have in your home, think first of the walls

Written by Sarah Stripe


Posted on February 07 2024

William Morris, English craftsman, poet, lecturer on the decorative arts and an early Socialist, is possibly best known by most of us as a multi-talented and iconic designer, creating everything from fabrics to furniture, wallpaper to stained glass.

Another often used, famous Morris quote is ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’  Although he was talking about the aesthetic of products and design, it’s not a bad rule to work to regardless.

He was, and still is, a major influence in the design world, although like so many creative geniuses he veered towards the temperamental –apparently it wasn’t unheard of for him to open the nearest window and chuck out his dinner if he wasn’t best pleased with the way it had been prepared or presented.



It was in his childhood, at the family home near Epping Forest that his life-long love of nature, so evident in his designs, began. He was endlessly fascinated by the colours and intricacy of plants, flowers and birds and they feature heavily in his ground-breaking designs - the first of his wallpapers, Trellis, (designed in 1862), was inspired by his then home, The Red House in Kent.

Morris’s colours were wonderfully imaginative and memorable; the stunning, stand-out greens a feature of his early wallpapers were drop dead gorgeous – in more ways than one! Arsenic was widely used in the 19th century, it produced a glorious green and hence it became popular for all sorts of uses, including house paints and wallpaper.

Unfortunately, arsenic in wallpapers and paints, combined with the damp walls on which they were placed, tended to produce a toxic vapour. This was eventually blamed for numerous maladies and deaths and certainly wasn’t what anybody would have had in mind when they planned to liven up a living room! As awareness of the dangers became more widely known, Morris and Co were forced to find alternatives, and it was of prime importance that this was made this clear to their customers, hence the disclaimer on the cover of their stand book below (albeit not that clear as a warning – see the black binder below!)




Coming back to the present day, it may seem that everything is plain and painted, not so, pattern is still key; lusciously big florals, deep dark colours, insects and extravagantly oversized animals are perennially popular in bright colours and modern neutrals.  The recent Morris & Co North range has been developed from the original print blocks; they are light and airy but still have this wonderful, blowsy feel and printed now in current neutral colours, a traditional colourful print has been given a modern take that can still transform a room.