Please note, if you hadn’t already, it would be most beneficial to read my preceding articles on the Omega Workshops and their connection to Modernism and the Bloomsbury Group in Twentieth Century England…
- Part of 1 The Omega Workshops Ltd. – “The Big Idea” here…
- Part 2 of The Omega Workshops Ltd. – “Objects and Interiors” here…
- Part 3 of the Omega Workshops Ltd. – “Company Ethos” here…
A standout feature of the Omega workshops was that their premises, nestled at 33 Fitzroy Square deep in Bloomsbury, London, ushered in a stream of artists and clients alike. The fact that its body of working artistic studios were in direct proximity to showrooms for the purpose of public viewing promoted close relations between the two: allowing contact between designer and patron. Rooms at the Fitzroy nucleus of Omega were decorated in such a way that reflected the design style of the project’s purveyors and the impetus here was to saturate the showroom and workshop with distinctive, eye-catching work. Arnold Bennett’s 1918 novel The Pretty Lady charts the impact of walking in to such an interior where:
The walls were irregularly covered with rhombuses, rhomboids, lozenges, diamonds, triangles, and parallelograms; the carpet was treated likewise, and also the upholstery and cushions. The colourings… in their excessive brightness, crudity and variety… resembled a gigantic glittering kaleidoscope.
This manner of display provided an ideal model to emulate and vehicle for promotion of the collective brand and their stylistic intentions. Indeed, Omega aimed to bring ‘the language of avant garde art to domestic design in Edwardian Britain’ and did so through exposure of these elements in an open, accessible and informal space that combined working environment with place of business to the ends of aesthetics and artistic ferment. As such, the opening of the Omega workshops drew in its clientele on the basis of its experimental start-up and its nature within the community. Offering an alternative to typical trends of the Edwardian period such as the classical, the Omega workshop was a closely collaborative effort dependent on informed buyers sympathetic to the cause of modernity.
A private view card probably designed by Duncan Grant for the opening exhibition at the Omega Workshops in 1913. © Henrietta Gartnett. All rights reserved.
Those associated with this movement were encouraged to informally drop-in or by invitation participate in the lifestyle on offer attached to the assembled objects. Such a lifestyle could be achieved by purchasing directly, selecting from a range of designs by choice or negotiating an entire interior scheme and thus buying into the aesthetic. In this way, ‘the imaginative force of art would enter into the lives of the public through objects purchased and then used on a daily basis’. Indeed, the Omega Workshops managed to foster high society contacts and secure commissions from those customers such as Princess Lichnowsky, Madame Vandevelde, Lady Ottoline Morrell and other friends of the Bloomsbury artists through a degree of sharing and intimacy. Gatherings marked by private viewings and dinners educated a select crowd in aesthetic principles, cultivating patrons within artistic and literary circles and there was a pronounced sense of involvement realised by Vanessa Bell who writes:
We should get all your disreputable and some of your aristocratic friends to come – and after dinner we should repair to Fitzroy Sq. where would be decorated furniture, painted walls etc. Then we should all get drunk and dance and kiss. Orders would flow in and the aristocrats would feel sure they were really in the thick of things.
It was Fry who recognised the market for modern contemporary design among its practitioners and indeed Bohemianism at this time was very much a lifestyle enjoyed by fashionable wealthy Londoners of a certain persuasion. Here, there was a demand for that which was unique and the Omega Workshops had the lively atmosphere to supply highly customised, artistic objects that would involve clients directly in this trend as it unfolded in front of them. Virginia Woolf writes:
There were bright chintzes designed by the young artists; there were painted tables and painted chairs; and there was Roger Fry himself escorting now Lady So-and-so, now a business man from Birmingham, round the rooms and doing his best to persuade them to buy.
From this, it would be astute to notice that Omega’s production was partly governed by taste and the profit to be made from this due to its closeness to the market: At this time in history the Omega Workshop’s hands on approach benefited from its experimental nature. Clients were directly influenced by the designer’s projection which transferred art onto life; these designs were readily consumed through an open system of cultural and social exchange. It was this inside access to the inner workings of its production that bridged the conception of artist’s ideas to the incorporation into the interior decorative arts under the Omega Workshops.
Menu card designed by either Vanessa Bell or Ducan Grant probably for the dinner to celebrate the opening of the Omega Workshops.
In British design history, the Omega workshops were truly experimental, especially given the artistic ferment of its bohemian intellectual workforce and clientele. It perhaps failed due to the non-ordered, free nature of its environment. However, I would agree with Virginia Nicholson in her study Among the Bohemians when she notes that many ‘contemporary trends are in themselves tributes […] to Omega’ and that ‘the modern fashionable interior pays homage to a creative urge amongst a relatively small sub-section of society in the early decades of the twentieth century’. Furthermore, Fry’s efforts worked to protect the rights and integrity of designers, reflected today in institutions to these ends.
 ‘Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19’.
 ‘Omega Lives: The Omega Workshops & the Hogarth Press’, Chaplin Library: Williams College [n.d.], http://chapin.williams.edu/exhibits/Omega%20book.pdf [accessed 2018].
 G. Dostaler, Keynes and his Battles (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2007), p. 34.
 A. P. Thirwall and D. Crabtree, Keynes and the Bloomsbury Group (Springer, 1980), p. 26.
 J. Dusinberre,Virginia Woolf’s Renaissance: Woman Reader or Common Reader? (University of Iowa Press, 1997), p. 33.
 D. Badulescu, ‘Bloomsbury and Space Boundaries’, Cross-Cultural Management Journal, Vol. 16, No. 2 (6), 2014, pp. 247-254.
 ‘The Omega Workshops: Bloomsbury graphic and interior design’, Mantex: Tutorials [n.d.], http:// http://www.mantex.co.uk/2009/09/17/the-omega-workshops/ [accessed 2018].