Beautifully useful… usefully beautiful?

William Morris said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

The Shakers, apparently, took it one step futher: “Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.”

Nowadays, with mass-production and the drive for efficiency and cost-effectiveness, there is less emphasis on making useful things beautiful too, which is a pity. Trying to find a useful thing that is also beautiful can be difficult, and, worse, expensive. An exception, oddly, is shotguns.

Miroku 7000

Miroku 7000

The basic design of the working parts of the doubled-barrelled shotgun hasn’t changed much since the 1880s; what’s even more interesting, in a way, is that the aesthetics haven’t changed much either. The stock is still made of wood (often walnut, with the more expensive guns having wood chosen for extra beauty of grain) and the outside of the working parts is usually still engraved with patterns or scenes. Manufacturers have resisted the urge to replace wood with plastic, and to omit those elements which contribute nothing to the function of the piece but serve only to make it beautiful. With shotguns, beautiful seems to come as standard.

What would it take, I wonder, to be a little more William Morris – or a little more Shaker – and what effect would that have on our own little corner of the world?

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