The Iconic Sussex Chair - Practical and Elegant

Fiona Rose

In 1865 William Morris employed George Warington Taylor as a business manager for the fledgling Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company. Taylor proved to be an excellent manager whose rigorous approach to commerce brought order and efficiency where William had been overly generous and ill organised in business matters - William had set out to create a national reform of art and not an exercise in shop keeping!

Taylor lived in Hastings and it was in Sussex that he discovered an old chair that was light weight, easy to move around and had a simple rush seat. The design was refined by Phillip Webb and became the firm's best selling piece of furniture, suitable for smaller budgets and houses than the custom designed, painted, heavy, 'mediaeval' style of furniture previously produced by the firm.

Made of ebonised beech with slender turned legs, the Sussex chair, and later settle, was elegant and practical and is today seen as a precursor of modernist design. William and Janey used Sussex chairs in their London home, Kelmscott House, as did Edward Burne Jones for his home in Fulham. Sussex chairs were used to furnish student rooms at Newnham College, Cambridge (lucky students!) and to provide rest for visitors to the galleries of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

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