Windows for the soul

This week’s Design File is about Willow Pattern china.

If ever there was a design that symbolised a cosy, bourgeois life then this would surely be a contender. It’s the sort of thing Betjemen might have equated with fish knives and other non-U items. It has a kind of retro-charm, of course, the fussy design and the fact that it is an entirely phoney Chinese tale, just a romantic idea. Perhaps that is what kept it so popular for so long.

My parents had Willow Pattern as the everyday crockery. When a cup or a dish was broken it was easy enough to replace and so, over the decades, it evolved into an odd kind of set with the same pattern in different hues of blue because so many different companies produced their own Willow Pattern. It didn’t seem to matter.

The other ‘everyday’ sort of china was Cornishware, that creamy earthenware decorated with simple bands of blue. Cornishware jugs have always seemed to me as particularly healthy, even when filled with custard. It’s as though they belong to a category called wholesome design. Is there such a thing?

It set me thinking about what other things might fall into the category of wholesomeness. I was pondering it one morning over breakfast at the table in our bay window, gazing out at the garden, feeling the sun on my back. And it came to me: isn’t the bay window itself such a symbol? I think they’re great things and it was certainly the reason why I bought this house – it has two large bay windows either side of the front door. They’re so deep that the dining table sits totally within one, meaning that you can look out into the garden from wherever you sit. They catch the sun from morning until evening, and people smile when they see them: oh, bay windows!



The house I lived in as a teenager had bay windows, standard-issue 1930s ones with leaded glass for that Tudor look the builders of the time so loved (and yes, the gable above was half timbered). The sills of the upstairs bay were low enough to allow you to sit on the floor and easily look out. Our little terrier loved lying there, flat out as though she’d been filleted, basking in the sunshine, and still able to see the postman when he came up the drive.

Friends of mine have a tall Victorian house in the centre of the small English town in which they live. The sitting room is on the first floor and it has a big bay window. When someone rings the doorbell, you can look down from the window and see who is there. And it’s always a simple pleasure standing there looking up and down the street, giving the room a strong sense of connection to the street without feeling in the least bit overlooked.

Do modern architects build bay windows any more? Often they require a re-jig of the roofline – an added gable, perhaps – or, like mine, a parapet around a flat roof. And that means additional cost. But there’s such a sensory pleasure standing within a window rather simply at it. It doesn’t even have to be that deep, really, and not full height, although maybe that’s more of a bow window, deep enough for a window seat and not much else.

Voysey's Broadleys

Voysey’s Broadleys

One of my favourite houses is Broadleys on Lake Windermere, in England’s Lake District. You might recognise it as the backdrop from the film of The French Lieutenant’s Woman. It was designed in 1898 by that sublime Arts and Crafts architect Charles Voysey, the man who combined aspects of the English vernacular such as buttressed walls, substantial chimneys and the inglenook to create houses that have the kind of appeal that goes straight to the heart (well, mine, at least). Broadleys looks down over the lake, one of the prettiest in England and those bay windows are a real connection with the landscape, maintaining what architects like to call ‘a dialogue’ between outside and inside.

Most of Voysey’s houses have bay windows. Every time I travel to London, I always make sure I look out from the Tube train to and from the airport to catch a glimpse of Voysey’s lovely tall house at South Parade in Bedford Park. That white rendering, the deep eaves, the broad windows – it strikes me as a happy and dignified house. This was built in 1891 and in it you can see the link to houses by Rennie Mackintosh, Hoffman, Frank Lloyd Wright and even Le Corbusier’s earliest buildings in La-Chaux-de-Fonds. It gives me a boost whenever I see it.

14 Park parade, Bedford Park, 1891

14 Park Parade, Bedford Park, 1891

And isn’t that the point of architecture, to nourish you in some way? For me, a bay window says that the architect has an understanding of the life of those living within, perhaps even nudging them into behavioural change because bay windows are places in which to spend time, to relax. They add to the texture and pleasure of life. They support the reading of a good book in abundant natural light or the simple enjoyment of watching the play of light around the room. And of course they’re the perfect place in which to sit and dunk your digestive in your cup of tea. (Willow Pattern, naturally.)

An early Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park, Chicago - 1892

An early Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park, Chicago – 1892

Categories: Architecture, Design, TravelTags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Earful Tower

Podcast: Figuring out France with Oliver Gee

The Australian Ugliness?

Maybe ugly, maybe not? Continuing Robin Boyd's conversation about the character of Australia's built envrionment

Savidge Reads

The Chronicles of a Book Addict

Barnabas Calder

Raw Concrete: the Beauty of Brutalism

Ticket to Adventures

Travel blog from around the world, near and far.

Write or Wrong

Uninspiration for the uninspired


architecture for travellers

Grasping Architecture

A student finding his way in the built environment



...Irishpisky.... an oldish chap sees the world...

Internal Wudang Martial Arts

Official Wudang Sanfeng Blog


An Architectural Perspective

The worlds biggest fridge magnet

The simple musings of a Post Bariatric Surgery, self confessed fat bloke

Half Baked In Paradise

Searching, settling, sauteeing and spritzing

Paris here and there

An insider's guide to Paris

The Wine Wankers

G’day, you’re at the best wine blog ever! We're all about wine; without the wankery.

Colin Bisset

writer, traveller, broadcaster

Bite The Book

Book Reviews and Views

Long Haul Lumière

Exploring our planet through neon-clad noise

Poshbird with Passion

restoring and saving 'stuff'


Some kind of journey.

Elder Pipe

Just you - and the world.


Adventures in renovation & restoration of an old French village house

Forty, c'est Fantastique !

La vie est belle !


She turns coffee into books so she can afford to buy more coffee. And more books.

cate st hill

a blog sharing simple design that uplifts the everyday

Mel Healy

crime fiction (& the kitchen)


A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

Architectural Visits

by Helena Ariza

SUGIH forever

Prince Dreamer constructs all his dreams!

The Ignited Mind !

"If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already" - Abraham Lincoln.

Publishing Insights

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose / The more things change, the more they stay the same


fairytales of architecture

Virginia Duran Blog

Art · Architecture · Graphic Design

My Book Strings

Those Who Say "You Only Live Once" Have Never Read a Book. ~John Hughes

andrew james writer

Unusual things to see and do in Paris


Camp but stylish Car Reviews and News

The Modern House Blog

Modern Residential Architecture

victoria blake


Time Tells

Vince Michael on history, preservation, planning and more

Alastair Gordon

Wall to Wall

Standing Ovation, Seated


silver painted river




%d bloggers like this: