Stoneywell is an Arts and Crafts house in Leicestershire designed by Ernest Gibson and filled with furniture he designed. I had no idea who Ernest Gibson was before I visited this house, but apparently (according to Wikipedia) he is an influential architect-designer from the Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth century. The house is super cool, it’s built into the side of a rock so as you go up the stairs at the back of the building (pulling yourself up with a rope around the narrow winding staircase!) you emerge at ground height. Since the house is in Leicestershire – and owned by the National Trust – I visited with my family when I was home over Easter. I know little to nothing about furniture, but the house just has this really cool vibe. The place has been beautifully decorated with this earthy furniture and William Morris print curtains and the light quality was beautiful. It feels like a mixture between a fairytale cottage and a house from the Flintstones because of all the stone walls. I didn’t want to leave!
Most of Gibson’s most ornate work is in museums and fancy stately homes rather than his little stone cottage, because the air quality is too damp to keep it in good condition. I think I prefer his cottage furniture though, it’s natural and homely. I hadn’t realised that the Arts and Crafts movement had a socialist underpinning – with figures like William Morris objecting to the conditions of factory workers making furniture. It’s sad to think that things probably haven’t improved. Arts and Crafts designers were also unique in their rejection of “unnecessary ornamention” – preferring to focus on the function of the item in question and using plain and natural motifs. It was amazing walking around the house and seeing chairs made in such a familiar style to realise that this was original and innovative at the time. I realised that what I thought of as a pretty normal looking chair was actually a relatively new design and designers like this still had a huge influence on furniture making today. Stoneywell is an gorgeous place and I recommend a visit, if not only to have your heart warmed by the enthusiastic volunteers!