Anarchic Aesthete

When I was making a vague attempt to house hunt in the oh-so-hot-right-now area of Walthamstow, estate agents would constantly bleat on about a property being in the vicinity of the William Morris Gallery and why that made it xxx amount more expensive.  That broken record did wear thin after a while, which is why I’ve probably never actually ventured in to the “charming” Lloyd Park to experience the “local hotspot” that is the William Morris Gallery.  Shame on me to allow estate agents’ schtick to affect my judgement.

As I approached this former childhood home of William Morris, on what could only be described as a gorgeous day in London, there was nothing to do except be bowled over and charmed by this gem of a museum that happens to be the only public gallery devoted to this most famed of British aesthetes.

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I was here to see House of Hackney‘s new collaboration with the William Morris archive, whereby the gallery invited the eclectic lifestyle brand to reimagine key prints with a HoH twist.  The synergy between the House of Hackney and William Morris was immediately apparent as we were led up to the first floor where HoH founders Frieda Gormley and Javvy M Royle had created something of a print maverick’s haven, blending seamlessly with the house’s Georgian architecture.

House of Hackney started their fashion-led interiors brand in 2011  with the moniker “Colefax & Fowler on acid” but dig further and the roots of their inspiration certainly lie with Morris, whose prints we might think of as “traditional” but at the time of their creation were considered radical as the aesthetic movement combatted claustrophobic Victoriana.  Similarly Gormley and Royle have been going up against the West London stranglehold over the world of interiors to create a unique aesthetic born out of Hackney, that can also travel far and beyond E8/E9.  There’s a irreverent take on Britishness that makes Gormley and Royle perfect for breathing new life into iconic Morris prints like the Peacock and Dragon, Hyacinth and Blackthorn.  Just as Royle and Gormley incorporate surreal elements from nature into their signature prints like Hackney Empire, Morris prints were intended to “interpret” nature rather than represent it with realism.

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House of Hackney have also created a print called “Artemis” seen below in the psychedelic swirling flora covered cushions and chesterfield sofas, which is an homage to the work of Morris.  Another key inspiration for the print was Diana Vreeland’s red living room – created to “look like a garden but a garden in hell.”  HoH’s Artemis print is less than hellish but there’s definitely a devilish naughtiness simmering beneath the feral flowers, especially when the print is rendered in black.

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The Morris prints which Gormley and Royle chose to work with have been tweaked with different scalings of the motifs as well as a brighter and more amplified colour palette, which at the time was limited by Morris & Co’s use of natural vegetable dyes.  I love the way all three re-worked HoH x William Morris prints and the HoH “Artemis” print all work with one another in tandem, sitting pretty not as a cacophony but as a more-is-more interiors delight.

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My personal fave has to be the Artemis with the teal background though…

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The range of course covers HoH’s breadth of cushions, wallpapers, soft furnishing fabrics, lamps and custom made furniture, as well as china and other bits and bobs that the brand have expanded in, in recent years.  Like Morris, who tirelessly aimed to make his art as democratic as possible and stimulated British manufacture of his textiles, Gormley and Frieda have also scoured the country to look for the best small-scale and skilled manufacturers to craft their wares.

When I first discovered House of Hackney, they had based their designs on fashion-led interiors.  Now the conversation is two way as their clothing line is also a significant complimentary part of their brand.  Submerge into your House of Hackney sofa or cushion in a matching printed dress.  Or subtly work the print in with panelled denim – a new addition for A/W 15-6, as are the stripy fur coats to go with the more “simple” brightly striped design to add to the HoH print stable.

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Descend back down the stairs and you’re faced with the weirdly complimentary work of British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, who was commissioned by the William Morris Gallery to reinterpret Morris family portraits.  He invited residents of Waltham Forest to pose for a series of portraits wearing Dutch Wax ensembles, created by costumier Dee Sheehan, to reflect the changing diversity of the area.

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Downstairs in a series of galleries, all things Morris come to life.  I only had a short period of time to browse the displays but the gallery certainly gives you an in-depth understanding of this anarchic aesthete’s life and design outlook.

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House of Hackney’s collaboration with William Morris will be housed in a specific concept shop for September and the partnership will continue for S/S 16 as well.

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