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Voysey's fireplaces

Voysey's fireplace designs formed a central and integral part of the architecture and interiors that he created, combining both the functional and the decorative. He wrote that, "the windows are the eyes, through which we may see the beauties that are superhuman, and the fireplace is the heart of the room, or the countenance of the whole face."1

Voysey's fireplace designs were guided by his own religious faith and respect for nature, often exhibiting a startlingly modern simplicity, in contrast to the 'distracting' ornament which had typified the Victorian hearth2. More startling still is the breadth of his artistic vocabulary, with the fireplace providing myriad opportunities for innovative approaches to the use of style, materials, decoration and proportion, with many obvious links to both his architecture and his designs for wallpaper, furniture and metalwork.

However, simplicity pervaded Voysey's approach to fireplace design, as he explained in 1906:

"Consider the average fireplace in the average home and count the number of different materials and colours of which it is composed. Is it conducive to restfulness and quiet reflection? Or is this whirl-wind of countless sensations needed to drown out our sober thought? Are bustle and discord necessary to our home life?"3

Perhaps the most surprising element of Voysey's approach to fireplace design is that he was unafraid to utilise a broad range of his designs within a single house or building, with contrasting fireplaces helping to define the purpose and atmosphere of each room, whilst retaining a sense of wholeness in the completed commission. This self-confidence is exhibited superbly at houses such as Norney and Broadleys, which retain fireplaces in a diverse range of styles and materials. These include the use of veined green marble under a shallow elliptical arch, a motif that recurs in a wide range of Voysey commissions. Wendy Hitchmough describes Voysey's marble fireplaces as "extraordinarily plain" for the time4. His inglenooks were also startling in their simplicity; they retained a sense of comfort and homeliness without succumbing to any pressure to be too decorative or to create an idealised 'cosy' fireside. Voysey recognised that, "simplicity in decoration is one of the most essential qualities without which no true richness is possible. To know where to stop and what not to do is a long way on the road to being a great decorator."5

Although relatively little attention was specifically given to Voysey's fireplace designs within contemporary publications, they clearly contributed to his wider commercial success through arrangements with manufacturers such as Thomas Elsley Ltd6. Arguably Voysey's most recognisable fireplace design is the simple metal fire grate with three stylised hearts. Such was its versatility and appeal that it could be found in the main bedroom of Voysey's own home, The Orchard, in the Falkirk Iron Company catalogue (for purchase), in the staff quarters at Broadleys, and in an institutional setting at Winsford Cottage Hospital, as well as in countless other Voysey-designed homes. Other popular designs included plain white wooden fire surrounds with black grates and the use of small, often iridescent, green tiles. Variations of these can be seen in bedrooms and reception rooms in a wide range of Voysey commissions, including at The Orchard, where such a fireplace formed the focal point of the home within the 'living hall'. He believed that fireplaces were central to creating a warm and welcoming home, both literally and metaphorically: "a warm fire in the hall is akin to a warm welcome."7

Julie Flower, October 2013

References

1. C.F.A. Voysey, Ideas in things, reprinted in S. Durant, CFA Voysey (Academy Editions, 1995), p.121.
2. C.F.A. Voysey, Ideas in things, p.118.
3. C.F.A. Voysey, Reason as a basis of art, p.24.
4. W. Hitchmough, CFA Voysey (Phaidon, 1995), p.61.
5. J. Brandon-Jones, and others, CFA Voysey, architect and designer, 1857-1941 ( Lund Humphries for the Art
Gallery and Museums and the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, 1978), p.67.
6. Thomas Elsley Ltd., Designs by CFA Voysey, Architect, catalogue of Voysey designs for metalwork and fire
surrounds (Thomas Elsley Ltd., Portland Metal Works, undated), held in the RIBA Drawings Collection.
7. C.F.A. Voysey, Ideas in things, p.121.


Page last amended 25th July 2020