Under the powerful influence of John Ruskin and his disciple William Morris, the Arts and Crafts movement began in England during the 1880s as a response to industrialization. Although the architect Edwin Lutyens (1869–1944) began his career in the midst of the movement, he is not often thought to be a key proponent of its embrace of rustic and vernacular sources for design—his late work in London and New Delhi makes him look like a classical architect. David Cole’s new book on some of Lutyens’s greatest houses makes a persuasive case to reconsider his Arts and Crafts leanings.
Cole, an Australian architect, has made it his hobby to document virtually every domestic commission attributed to Lutyens; judging by the heft of this massive tome, he has succeeded. Beautifully printed and produced, this monograph is reminiscent of the lavish art folios published during the mid-20th century by English, German, and Italian presses, sparing no expense on the production of color photographs.
And if you thought Lutyens’s country houses were well represented in previous publications, you will be pleasantly surprised by Cole’s own photographs of 45 works in full color; devotees of Lutyens’s work will find all the views, details, and information one could want in a pictorial tribute. There are also photos of rarely seen houses, gardens, and interiors found nowhere else among the many publications on the architect’s life and work. Particularly useful is a set of plans of several masterpieces, such as Orchards (Surrey, 1899), Little Thakeham (West Sussex, 1902), Grey Walls (East Lothian, Scotland, 1901), and Goddards (Surrey, 1900). Two French houses, Le Bois des Moutiers (1898) and La Maison des Communes (1909), are presented in detail.
While I have little to quibble with about the production or research, I would prefer less descriptive detail and more interpretation of the houses with relation to scholarship on the Arts and Crafts Movement itself. Lutyens learned a good deal from his more rustically inclined contemporaries, C.R. Ashbee and W.R. Lethaby among them, as he struck out in his early “Surrey vernacular” period of 1890 to 1910. He continued to refine that knowledge using Arts and Crafts motifs in houses for years to come, but in lesser-known works. It seems that while striving for a place among the great classical masters, he was loath to give up a vision of the glowing hearths, half-timbering, and dappled stone walls that epitomize the English ideal of home. The owners of these houses are glad he didn’t.