A Morris chair is an early recliner named for the founder of the company that invented it, William Morris and Company. The chair was first popular during the Victorian era in England, but was later adapted into the popular Mission and Arts and Crafts design movements. Morris chairs remain popular in modern design for their easily convertible look and style.
In 1861, English poet, painter and social reformer William Morris formed a design corporation that would come to be commonly known as Morris and Company. The company emphasized home craftsmanship, rather than the factory produced work that had become prevalent during the British Industrial revolution. Their designs featured hand-dyed and woven fabrics and hand-carved woods.
The Morris chair was originally introduced in 1866, and photographs exist of a Morris chair in William Morris’ own home. It is believed to have been reproduced from a prototype version owned by Ephraim Colfax of Sussex, England. The signature feature of the chair is its reclining back, which was revolutionary at the time.
Unlike a lounge chair, which is relatively informal in style, a Morris chair features a high back and high armrests, and can be used like any armchair in its upright position. Early models of the Morris chair had upholstered cushions or fabric sewn onto the chair, but later models feature removable cushions. This added to the flexibility of the chair, as cushions could easily be changed to suit altered tastes or color schemes. The reclining back is considered the predecessor of all modern reclining chairs.
Although the original Morris Chairs were highly decorative and somewhat bulky, the chair became immensely popular as an icon of the Arts and Crafts movement. The simple lines and advanced craftsmanship necessary for a Morris chair was appealing to Arts and Crafts fans, who emphasized the importance of functional design and craft. Gustav Stickley, an American furniture designer, and British design company Liberty and Company made several adaptations to the Morris chair and had considerable success with it. In modern versions, the armrests are usually lower than is traditional and the reclining mechanisms are easier to operate.
Original 19th century Morris chairs, even those made by companies other than Morris and Company, are extremely rare. On antique auction sites, an early Gustav Stickley version can cost over $5000 US Dollars. Reproduction Morris chairs usually conform to the Mission or Arts and Crafts styles, and are available at wide variety of prices depending on the source, materials, and craftsmanship.