From William Morris to CabbageTown

From William Morris to CabbageTown
Outside a glorious June morning;
Inside –  in a 1920’s theatre on Mount Pleasant –  stuffy, coolish, dark and distinctly musty.
An hour or two listening to a guy called Mike Daniel – corporate historian for Stickley, deliver a talk on the origins of this iconic furniture, well worth giving up the sunshine for.
A little slice of history if I may:
As an ex interior designer, my favourite design period is between about 1860 -1910 which incorporates both Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. Kicking off the whole Arts and Crafts movement was English poet, author, social reformer and designer William Morris (1834-1896). His style –  beautiful hand-crafted  and functional; his design ethos “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”  – was a knee jerk reaction to both the mechanism of the industrial revolution and the fussy over- adorned parlours of the Victorian era. His style,

Overlapping with him and taking us into the Art Nouveau period was Scottish designer, Charles Renee Mackintosh (1868-1930). Layer on the Czech painter Alphonse Mucha (think Paris) and architect Victor Horta (Brussels) – amongst many others – and you get an idea of the coherence of the various design disciplines of the era I refer to.
On the other side of the pond Frank Lloyd Wright was spearheading his own brand of the Arts and Crafts movement – his philosophy,  like Morris,  was to produce clear innovative design using quality materials in imaginative ways. His home & studio in Oak Green Michigan is open to the public and about a 45 minute train ride from centre of Chicago.. Having been there I can tell you that it`s worth approaching his studio by foot from the rail station as only that way can you get an appreciation for all the other Arts and Crafts houses he designed and built in the area. Visually stunning, one can only imagine all the innovative little touches and quality of construction inside.
At around the same time (1884) in upstate New York, the brothers Stickley (5 of them) started their 4 separate furniture businesses. Influenced by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, William Morris, and the *prairie style they began turning out the Stickley Mission brand of furniture. Like both William Morris and Lloyd Wright they built their style around “honesty of materials, solidity of construction, utility, adaption to place and aesthetic effect.
Getting a feeling of `deja vu
Gustave Stickley in particular edited a periodical called “Craftsman Homes” which produced original plans of craftsman homes for $3.50 a pop. It would appear that this publication had an enormous influence as examples of these houses can be seen up and down many a North American Street.
Meanwhile in Toronto, and influenced by William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Stickley brigade, we had our own proponent for the Arts and Crafts movement. Eden Smith was born in Birmingham in the mid 1800’s. His Father had been one of William Morris’ cronies – hence the development of his particular architectural style. On his arrival in Toronto, he opened up his own architectural office and during his lifetime designed and built approximately 2500 house, churches and public buildings. Excellent examples of his Arts and Crafts housing (he branded it English cottage style) can be found in Wychwood Park (north of Davenport Road and just west of Bathurst Street); the Beaches and Cabbage Town.
He also designed the preparatory school at Upper Canada College, several Carnegie style libraries (High Park being one; see link for more info: ) and was a founding member of the Arts & Letters Club (
I guess what all the above illustrates, is that Toronto is not quite the historic wasteland that outsiders imagine it to be. Our streets are full of cultural gems. If you are interested in discovering some of these, you can do a walking tour of several of the areas including The Distillery District; Lawrence Market; King Street East and CabbageTown, with the following:
Bruce Bell
Marta O’Brien
And so to finish my narrative on Stickley – which is where I started: – don’t tell me I didn’t warn you in my very first blog about my tendency to do the “monologue chair” thing –
Due to social changes and tastes and Gustave Stickley’s inability to come up with new designs, his company went belly up in 1915 and his younger brothers took over the business as L. & JG  Stickley  which was then sold in 1974 to Alfred Audi.
The Audi family are the current owners of Stickley, and the company still adheres to its original tenets to produce superb furnishings of historical significance in solid woods and with the highest standard of cabinet making, ANDDDDDD here in Toronto we are lucky enough to have two Stickley showrooms virtually side by side. 
So, if you want to buy yourself a piece of quality furniture with an historic edge, OR you simply want to browse the showroom and breathe in a little bit of North American history, they can be found at
561 & 567 Mount Pleasant Street
Toronto. Ont
M4S 2M5
Tel: 647 435 4268
Just for fun, scroll your cursor over the three photos of chairs at the top of this article. Each made by one of the designers mentioned above!
*Prairie Style – 19th and early 20th century. Architectural style, common to the Midewestern States. Defined by horizontal lines, flat or hipped rooves, broad overhanging eaves, windows grouped in horizontal bands, integration with the landscape, solid construction, craftsmanship, and discipline in the use of ornament.
  • Society Cut-ups (AGO exhibit)
  • Coffee in the sky
  • Mama Mia the Musical
  • An afternoon in Yorkville
  • A trip to Caledon
  • Baysfield – who knew?
  • Wine pairing in Niagara

2 thoughts on “From William Morris to CabbageTown

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review « Britgirlintoronto's Blog

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