We’ve recently framed some pretty great pieces in the fairly plain and simple, but hefty mortise-and-tenon frames that have been a specialty of ours from day one (twenty-one years ago!). You can scroll down to see notable examples. I like to borrow a phrase from William Morris to describe them: “good citizen’s frames.” View our Mortise-and-Tenon frames in the catalog… See more examples of pictures in Mortise-and-Tenon frames in the Portfolio…
In his 1882 lecture, “The Lesser Arts of Life,” William Morris had some important advice on furniture and furnishings—advice applicable to frames. The distinction between simple and “makeshift” bears emphasis; all should be well-made. In your “work-a-day furniture,” use stout, solid wood, and don’t neglect your joinery, he says. And don’t be shy to have more decorative work, if you can and wish. Only do it with integrity. The passage doesn’t address frames directly, but the admonition to “think first of the walls” certainly speaks to our particular art form. (Of course, Morris was a maker of wallpaper, so he wasn’t thinking exclusively of pictures.) The especially memorable lines are in bold.
Simplicity is the one thing needful in furnishing, of that I am certain; I mean first as to quantity, and secondly as to kind and manner of design. The arrangement of our houses ought surely to express the kind of life we lead, or desire to lead; …[our] houses…should look like part of the life of decent citizens prepared to give good commonplace reasons for what they do. For us to set to work to imitate the minor vices of the Borgias, or the degraded and nightmare whims of the blasé and bankrupt French aristocracy of Louis the Fifteenth’s time, seems to me merely ridiculous. So I say our furniture should be good citizen’s furniture, solid and well made in workmanship, and in design should have nothing about it that is not easily defensible, no monstrosities or extravagances, not even of beauty, lest we weary of it. As to matters of construction, it should not have to depend on the special skill of a very picked workman, or the super-excellence of his glue, but be made on the proper principles of the art of joinery: also I think that, except for very moveable things like chairs, it should not be so very light as to be nearly imponderable; it should be made of timber rather than walking-sticks. Moreover, I must needs think of furniture as of two kinds: one part of it being chairs, dining and working tables, and the like, the necessary work-a-day furniture in short, which should be of course both well made and well proportioned, but simple to the last degree; nay, if it were rough I should like it the better, not the worse; with work-a-day furniture like this we should among other blessings avoid the terror which now too often goes with the tolerably regularly recurring accidents of the week.
But besides this kind of furniture, there is the other kind of what I should call state-furniture, which I think is proper even for a citizen; I mean sideboards, cabinets, and the like, which we have quite as much for beauty’s sake as for use; we need not spare ornament on these, but may make them as elegant and elaborate as we can with carving, inlaying, or painting; these are the blossoms of the art of furniture, as picture tapestry is of the art of weaving: but these also should not be scattered about the house at haphazard [intervals], but should be used architecturally to dignify important chambers and important places in them. And once more, whatever you have in your rooms think first of the walls, for they are that which makes your house and home; and if you don’t make some sacrifice in their favour, you will find your chambers have a kind of makeshift, lodging-house look about them, however rich and handsome your movables may be.
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