Wedgwood and interior design

As Britain emerged from the fashion for rococo and Chinoiserie in the mid 18th century, so the demand for pure neo-classical interiors, designed down to the last detail in the antique manner, emerged. The Adam brothers were the specialists at this, and furniture makers - the ‘big three' were Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite - were quick to respond. So were the manufacturers of decorative accessories, notably Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton.

Vases and urns formed the focal point of the décor of the grand country houses, now springing up in every county. Josiah described it as ‘a universal passion' and ‘vase madness', and his ornamental wares were designed specifically to fulfill the customers' demands. Boulton, manufacturer of decorative metalwork, made vases too. Both were determined to complement the designs of Robert Adam and other neo-classical architects with their products.

Interior decorative motifs ranged from niches, columns, styled according to the classical orders, to pediments and friezes; surfaces were embellished with stucco swags and garlands, and plaques and cameos. The chimney-piece, often with a gilt-framed mirror over the mantel, was the most important feature of a room and Robert Adam specialized in their design, using polished steel grates, columns and all manner of neo-classical features. Walls, ceilings and other features were painted in strong Roman colours, or the paler tints used by Wedgwood in his jasper bodies. Designs copied directly from the wall paintings of Pompeii and Herculaneum were popular.

The inset architectural plaque or cameo was an important feature of the neo-classical interior, emulating classical friezes, albeit on a smaller scale. Wedgwood produced a large range of these, designed by his principle modellers, William Hackwood, Henry Webber and John Flaxman. They were frequently adapted to suit wares such as vases and useful items - teapots, jugs or coffee pots. 


A typical neo-classical fireplace design, by Robert Adam

A typical neo-classical fireplace design, by Robert Adam