After Victoria's long reign, with its years of mourning, the Edwardian era was greeted by a people eager for something fresh. This was an age that saw the advent of Lalique glassware and Tiffany lighting. Gas and then electric lighting came gradually into popular use, inspiring bright and cheerful decorative schemes. Finally it was safe to let the sun shine in. Lighter colours with simpler patterns incorporating floral motifsand the new bright white enamel paint that was used on woodwork contrived to make the Edwardian house a home. Somewhere that offered sanctuary from the toils of the city, somewhere you could breathe.
Even with recent innovations, the fireplace was still the main source of heat and the designs from this period indicate that they were celebrated as such, placed at the heart of the decorative scheme. Like the Victorians, the Edwardians were very much caught up in the spirit of revivalism, but unlike their predecessors their decorations, and of course, their fireplaces reflected the style of the house.
Art Nouveau & Revival
A terraced house would be likely to own a fireplace designed with reference to Art Nouveau; that is bearing patterns comprising of highly stylised natural forms, bold shapes, perhaps flanking female figures. Revival homes i.e. those fashioned to evoke Tudor, Jacobean or, as was more pronounced in the Edwardian era, Georgian houses often had open inglenook fireplaces, allowing space for people to sit in by the fire, or, alternatively, a huge overmantel, another feature of the Tudorbethan tradition.
This trend was inspired by the manufacture of cheap plate glass, which meant that the average Victorian household could afford to hang a mirror over the fireplace. The Edwardians took this a step further, reinstating the overmantel which now often comprised a mirror and shelving on which to display ornaments. Although, as a rule, Edwardian decoration was slightly plainer than that of the Victorians it was no less eclectic; from Neo-Medievalism, through the pillars and scrolling of the Georgian influence, to the bold lines of Art Nouveau. Whilst you are less likely to find a piece that fits together like a jigsaw of several influences, it seems that the different trends gradually encroached on each other. This was perhaps more to do with the production-lines adapting the designs for the wider market than any real common sympathies.
Influences: Arts & Crafts Movement
The influence of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement lived on, but ironically its popularity went some way to undermining its ambitions as mass-produced goods in the Arts & Crafts style were made available to all those who could not afford to pay for the work of an artisan.
Inset Tiling & Cast Iron Fires
The rusticity associated with both Arts & Crafts, and Medieval revivalism is evident in some of the tiling work. The tiles around an Edwardian fire are often cut to look like bricks, of a single colour with no patterning, but glazed for their protection and in order that they reflect the light. Lighter colours are complemented with dark highlights, either in the motifs, or perhaps with the actual cast iron register grate, or a dark wood surround acting as a foil to the new environment. The middle-classes were finding their place, and decorating it too. When Matthew Arnold wrote about the "sweetness and light" that the middle-classes should aspire to as purveyors of a new morality, he probably didn't imagine they would be making their homes out of it.
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