English architect, interior designer, garden designer and writer. He was articled to Charles Davis (1827–1902), City Architect of Bath, from 1886 until 1889 but learnt little and was largely self-taught. In 1889 he started his own practice on the Isle of Man, where he built a number of buildings, including his own Red House, Douglas (1893). He was a leading member of the second-generation Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and was among the first to build on the simpler, more abstract and stylized designs of C. F. A. Voysey, a refinement of the ideas of William Morris, Philip Webb, R. Norman Shaw and others from the period 1860–90. From about 1890 until World War I, the Arts and Crafts Movement, as represented by Baillie Scott, Voysey, C. R. Ashbee, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Parker & Unwin and others, became the most important international force in architecture, interior design, landscape and urban planning. The work of these architects influenced Adolf Loos and Josef Hoffmann in Austria, Joseph Maria Olbrich and Peter Behrens in Germany, Eliel Saarinen and others in Scandinavia, and Frank Lloyd Wright, Irving Gill, Greene & Greene in the USA.
Baillie Scott’s most important contribution to the movement was a new kind of open planning in domestic architecture that led to the elimination of Victorian parlours. These he replaced with a living-room, a space he often called the ‘houseplace’. The space is closely interrelated to adjacent dining, study and sleeping areas, which were made subordinate. The focal point of these spaces is invariably an immense fireplace surrounded by built-in furniture and often covered by a projecting copper repoussé overmantel emblazoned with a heart, meant to symbolize the very ‘heart’ of the house. In his planning in terms of areas and levels rather than rooms and floors, he was a pioneer of Modernism. This originality was complemented by furniture and interior design. His simplified, usually box-like furniture eliminated any hint of classical or medieval ornament and usually features, as do his wallpaper designs and bas-relief friezes, brilliant pure colour similar to that used by van Gogh and Gauguin with the dominant floral and faunal symbolism characteristic of the period. (For an illustration of one of his embroidered screen panels.) For a number of years his furniture was mass produced by J. P. White in Bedford and a number of designs were executed by Ashbee’s Guild and School of Handicraft or by German Werkstätten.
In his overall architectural design Baillie Scott subordinated his architecture to the site and gardens. These, with their natural colour and ornament, dominated the house, which became a mere neutral foil for them. Unlike earlier houses where living areas faced the street Baillie Scott designed his to face the garden. His reverence for nature is recalled in the epitaph on his tombstone: ‘Nature he loved, and next to Nature, Art’. Baillie Scott’s writings on architecture are also important and contributed to his widespread influence. Many of his best designs were included in his Houses and Gardens of 1906. Without ascending to a profoundly philosophical theory, he advanced commonsense reasons for looking more deeply into the traditional vernacular architecture of Britain (and, by inference for foreign architects, that of their own countries), rather than continue the 19th-century tradition of imitating historical styles. Consequently, a new emphasis was placed on function and materials that by themselves, Baillie Scott believed, would create a sense of the decorative. Baillie Scott believed firmly that sensitive and practical architecture and design could be enjoyed by all. He did not believe that modern, industrially based society required an architecture that subordinated all traditional crafts to new mechanistic modes. After World War I he increasingly opposed the so-called ‘factory aesthetic’ advanced by Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus and others. The gap between the Bauhaus and earlier Arts and Crafts traditions is well perceived in Baillie Scott’s second book, also entitled Houses and Gardens (1933).
Due largely to his publication of illustrated articles in The Studio magazine from 1895 to 1920, Baillie Scott received numerous commissions by mail, not only from Britain but from abroad. Nearly all were for furniture, interior designs or country houses. In the period 1897–9 he designed novel and colourful interiors and furnishings (destr.) for the Ducal Palace at Darmstadt and (also destr.) for a summer house for Princess Marie at Sinaia, Romania. Among his best early country houses are Blackwell at Bowness, Westmorland (now Cumbria) (1898), the White Lodge, Wantage, Oxon (1898), the White House, Helensburgh, Scotland (1899), and The Garth, Cobham, Surrey (1899; interior remodelled). All show his ability to design open plans with highly personalized interiors. His finest foreign commission is probably Waldbühl (now a museum) at Uzwil, Switzerland, a detailed commission for house, garden and furnishings that occupied him between 1908 and 1914 .
Baillie Scott’s finest work was for costly country houses and individually designed and handcrafted interiors, but his sense of social justice, influenced by Morris, also made him a leading spokesman for higher quality housing for the working class. He produced ample and well-designed houses for moderate- and low-income groups, such as the houses at Meadway and Waterlow Court, both in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London. These represent perhaps the culmination of his stylistic development and were built in a period when he made numerous multiple-family houses for Letchworth and Hampstead garden cities (1904–9). Waterlow Court (1909) was designed for single working women, an innovative concept at that date.
All of Baillie Scott’s drawings and records were destroyed in a fire in his Bedford office in 1911. He re-established his practice in London in partnership with A. Edgar Beresford (1880–1952) in 1919 and lived in an old farmhouse at Edenbridge, Kent. In his later work he incorporated more overtly Tudor themes as at Whiteladies, Sevenoaks, Kent (1928), or Georgian ones as at his house at Mudeford Green, Hants (1924; destr.). However, he never abandoned his earlier vernacular manner and continued to build in this style with houses such as Mena House, Walton on Thames, Surrey (1931–2). In 1941 the Blitz of London destroyed what drawings and records had been created between 1911 and that time, and his oeuvre must now be reconstructed from illustrations in the architectural press. Sir John Betjeman considered that ‘of all English architects at the turn of the century, none has exercised so great an influence as Baillie Scott; for he was the forerunner in designing good small houses and our century has been (besides one of cliffs and commercial offices) the century of the small house’. Baillie Scott lambasted the Victorians, who he considered had so debased design that ‘it is easier to point out what to avoid than what to choose’, and advocated functioning spaces wherein beauty ‘will be mainly achieved in a negative way, by adding nothing to the few essential features, nothing to the effect, by setting the right thing in the right place and then doing nothing more’.
James D. Kornwolf
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press