Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wordplay in Furniture and Decor

Has it really been almost a week since I've updated here at Catty-Corner Cottage? My goodness. But I have a handful of post ideas up my sleeve.

I wanted to do a post, or a series of posts, explaining the historic basis for the style I prefer for interior decoration. Of course it should come as no shock to anyone who knows my obsession with the Pre-Raphaelites and Victorian Aestheticism that British Arts & Crafts is my preferred decor style.

One prominent repeating decorative theme in Arts & Crafts decor was incorporating words and text in furniture items and decor. Yes, the concept definitely pre-dates the modern vinyl wall clings and stencil kits you can find online! But I love this tradition not only because it is a classic feature of the style, but also because it suits my romantic images of what a home should be. To someone who grew up with a love affair towards reading and the beauty of words, I understand how just a few words or lines of text as part of a living environment can help transform an object, a room, a space, into part of a living and breathing story.

Life, to me, should be a fairy tale. And by that I don't mean we should all expect constant happily ever afters with no trials. Rather, I mean that we should each seek to see every day, every space, every inch of how we live as part of a tale that can include journeys and trials, magic and enchantment, fear and haunted forests, and happiness and love. Wrapping words around the every day objects with which we live helps transform those objects in our minds and our hearts.


Wightwick Manor is one of the greatest examples of a fine British residence transformed by William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement. In the image of the great hall, you can see that lines of text have been painted directly onto the wall. (to either side of the tapestry) In a book I have read, there is an image of this space in which one of these lines on this wall can be read. It says

When Orpheus strikes his trembling lyre
the wolf and lamb around him trip
the bears in awkward measure leap
and tigers mingle in the dance.

Of course, frankly, the manor needs very little to make it enchanted, but to me the words still add an extra dimension.

Thanks to the amazing website of British antique dealer Puritan Values Ltd. for all of the below examples of text used in Arts and Crafts furniture.


One of my favorite Arts & Crafts quotes/mottoes on this firescreen:

So if you've wondered why the words on the stairs at Catty-Corner Cottage, why the plans to write more words on the fireplace mantle, Dreaming Room, and possibly the master bed...this is why.


  1. I visited Wightwick Manor last summer and it is absolutely beautiful.
    I love little mottoes and verses around the house too. The banner I'm making for my fireplace will say 'Love Is Enough' which I'm sure you'll know is from a William Morris poem!

  2. Bryony, Wightwick is definitely on my list of "must-sees" when we visit in 2013!!! I think it's both a tease and a good thing that they don't allow much photography in makes the few glimpses I've seen even more tantalizing.

    And oh, what a wonderful choice for the quote on your banner! I can't wait to see that completed.

  3. Great post! I wish you could follow up on this topic!

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