Is there an arts and crafts furniture revival happening?
Well of course I would say yes as I feel I am part of what’s happening within the furniture designer/maker market, but let’s explore and see if you agree.
To explore whether we are undergoing a revival of the arts and craft period we first need to understand what was going on in the original period.
The original Arts and Crafts movement started back in the late 1800s and its essence was a reaction to the industrial revolution and a desire to get back to a place where society valued who and how an item had been made. The industrial revolution was damaging to both societal conditions and the quality of the manufactured goods that society was seeing. The Arts and Crafts movement was about shifting the priorities that society placed on the manufacture of objects away from low price and lower quality towards a desire for objects that had integrity and traceability back to the maker, who would be working in a far less dehumanising fashion than factory workers.
One of the early influencers was William Morris, a successful designer/maker of the time. While only a member of the movement for the 5 years before his death, his influence was extensive. His passion was for beautiful, well-made objects that were produced in such a way as to allow the maker to feel integral to the object and attached to the end consumer. Even in 5 years he was influential in the guiding principles of the movement: honest, functional design, the use of natural forms in pattern, and the importance of creative, manual work.
Morris argued that the move towards mass production through the division of labour (production line work where individuals only work on a single process and don’t feel attached to the end product) was leading to inferior goods and poor design. Morris was vocal in calling for a return to small workshops where the designer/maker was connected to the product from start to finish.
The movement grew significantly through the commercial relationships between rural makers and retail outlets in London such as Heal’s and Liberty allowing a much wider audience to be impressed by the philosophy of the movement and quality of the objects.
The growth continued well into the 20th Century and remained buoyant until the outbreak of the 2nd World War which obviously had a significantly destabilising effect on the economy.
Post WWII and as early as 1955 the we saw the first use of the term “throw-away society” in an article by Life magazine titled “Throwaway Living.” It was the beginning of a period of economic growth, over consumption and over production of disposable items.
More recently though, I think you will agree, there has been a tide of change that has seen themes such as ethical consumerism, questioning large amounts of packaging, damaging effect of product waste on nature and a desire to move away from shoddily made goods to hand crafted items.
One of the gauges of the desire for handcrafted items has been the recent rise of online site Etsy.
Etsy begun in Jun 2005.
“By January of 2008, Etsy had fifty employees, and 650,000 users—120,000 of whom were sellers—in 127 different countries.  In 2010, just five years after launch, Etsy’s community had grown to 5 million members, and the company was valued at around $100 million. That same year, Etsy saw revenues of just over $300 million.  As of December 31, 2014, the Etsy community had grown to 54 million members, 1.4 million of whom were active sellers and 20 million of whom were active buyers. That same year, the company earned $1.93 billion in sales, amounting to almost $200 million in revenue.  Then in April of 2015, ten years after Etsy’s initial founding, the company successfully completed its IPO, raising more than $287 million and resulting in a valuation of more than $3.5 billion.  Today the company trades at a value of $2 billion on the NYSE.”
So, do I believe we are seeing a revival in the beliefs of the original arts and crafts movement – absolutely. Through sites like Etsy and with the power of the internet to connect clients to makers, we are seeing a rise in numbers concerned not with price and accepting of poor quality disposable items, but with a keen eye for design and a desire to feel connected to an item through relationships and provenance.
So, for me as a designer/maker of contemporary fine furniture these are exciting times to be in the marketplace – but do you agree?
There are a couple of excellent articles about the original arts and crafts movement at the following links: