Sunday, May 13, 2012

Decorating Your Gothic Mansion According to the William Morris Golden Rule

You may hang your walls with tapestry instead of whitewash or paper; or you may cover them with mosaic; or have them frescoed by a great painter: all this is not luxury, if it be done for beauty's sake, and not for show: it does not break our golden rule: Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. 
William Morris - The Beauty of Life, 1880

Last week during a furniture painting class, a random comment made by a participant in the class got the insomniac  thinking (not exactly a common occurrence, one is quick to add). The comment in question was “wallpaper is so expensive, hard to remove, etc. who would ever choose to use it?” implying that anyone who had made that decorating choice might very well be considered mentally unfit. The insomniac  took immediate offense, since every room in the Gothic Mansion is indeed wallpapered (except for the kitchen and the offspring's bedrooms, for purely practical reasons). One is not disputing the fact that good wallpaper is expensive, but since the Morris wallpaper in question has lasted twenty-five years, and one feels absolutely no desire to remove it within the next twenty-five, it would seem the cost might be considerably less than repainting every few years in whatever colours happen to be the latest fashion. Accordingly, expensive wallpaper would appear to be an excellent decorating choice ...

Wightwick Manor, papered with Honeysuckle (1876)

 Dining Room at Wightwick Manor, papered with Wild Tulip (1884)

At this point, the insomniac  was unsure how to continue with the remainder of this post. Should it become a rant against the current trend to redecorate every few years with all new items, simply discarding the old when one has tired of it? Or should it be an ode to the beauty of Wm. Morris designs and their lasting appeal, and along those lines, the inherent good sense of purchasing quality items with the intent of passing them along to future generations rather than having them end up in the landfill? The final decision on those questions has yet to be determined ...

The Great Parlour at Wightwick Manor, papered with Diagonal Trail (1893)

If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of Art and the thing most to be longed for I should answer, a Beautiful House. W.M.

It appears to the insomniac  that things have changed greatly in the world since she first started her decorating journey. Back in the day, one would live on Kraft Dinner for weeks so as to be able to afford a piece of furniture, with the understanding it could take years before achieving the Beautiful House envisioned in one's mind. It would seem today that most prefer the immediate gratification of a fully furnished house, achieved by purchasing cheaply made items from some nameless Big Box Store rather than by taking time to purchase carefully thought out and saved for items.

The Hall at Wightwick Manor, Chair upholstered in Bird (1878)

All rooms ought to look as if they were lived in, and to have, so to say, a friendly welcome ready for the incomer. W.M.

And how better to achieve that lived-in look than by decorating with good quality items that will stand the test of time. This would seem to be a more eco-friendly form of decorating than purchasing new items of poor quality with the intent to discard, once one has either grown tired of the style or they have fallen apart. The question being, how could a home that is redecorated every few years in the latest trends possibly achieve a lived-in look, unless one has unlimited funds for the purchase of antiques, in which case one would probably not be reading a blog written by a thrifty insomniac with very limited funds. 

The insomniac's  style hasn't changed over the years, although the overly critical eye that one used to select imminent purchases with has all but disappeared. Having acquired an aged patina herself, the insomniac  finds she now prefers items with just such a patina - having finally come to the realization that perfection, in one's home and life, is generally unachievable and highly overrated.

The insomniac  can imagine growing old in this room without ever changing it,
except to possibly add more layers of stuff ...

Now that the offspring have moved out once and for all, and one no longer has to worry about the walls being used for target practice whilst the aforementioned honed their knife throwing skills, the last two rooms in the Gothic Mansion are now being considered for wallpaper; the insomniac  having become quite fond of the following two offerings from Sanderson ...

Acanthus (1875)

Artichoke (1898) 

Should this post have a moral, it would be this: Purchase finely crafted, quality items, whether it be wallpaper, carpets, furniture or any other manner of household goods, with the intent of keeping them for a lifetime. A home filled with well-loved and well-worn items is more of a home than one slavishly copied from some trendy decorating magazine. There's a very good reason the phrase “more money than taste” was coined, my pretties ...

And so to end this post, a poem by Morris embroidered on the bed hangings at Kelmscott Manor: 

The wind's on the wold
And the night is a-cold,
And Thames runs chill
Twixt mead and hill,
But kind and dear
Is the old house here,
And my heart is warm
Midst winter's harm.
Rest then and rest,
And think of the best
Twixt summer and spring
When all birds sing
In the town of the tree,
As ye lie in me
And scarce dare move
Lest earth and its love
Should fade away
Ere the full of the day.

I am old and have seen
Many things that have been,
Both grief and peace,
And wane and increase.
No tale I tell
Of ill or well,
But this I say,
Night treadeth on day,
And for worst and best
Right good is rest.

Right good is rest, indeed ...

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams, in a Gothic mansion filled with treasures that you believe to be beautiful (and perhaps even useful) ... Goodnight, my pretties.


PostScript: The insomniac  and family can personally vouch for the Beauty and Durability of the Sanderson Wm. Morris wallpapers. Twenty-five years and counting ...

Picture sources:
     William Morris Decor and Design, Elizabeth Wilhide

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