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Mission Style Furniture and Decor Traits

Charlotte Gerber
Mission style bedroom furniture

Mission style furniture and décor was born from the Arts and Crafts Movement. These traits included the use of horizontal lines, geometric shapes, rectangles, squares, and a dedication to handmade craftsmanship.

Highly Collectible Mission Style Furniture and Décor Objects

Mission style furniture and décor objects are highly collectible as art forms and functional furniture. Mission furniture was made popular during the Arts and Crafts Movement. Décor objects feature botanical motifs including tulips, lotus flowers, peacock eye, pine, and other stylized designs that reflected the union of nature in art forms.

Description of Mission Style Furniture

Mission style furniture has distinctive simple features that include straight vertical and horizontal lines with slat-like backs and bottom sides. This design creates a solid upright look that features 90° angles, spindles and either square or rectangle shaped legs.

Morris Chair with Leather Cushions

Refreshing Change from Victorian Furniture Styles

The Mission furniture design of flat wood panels are used to reveal the beauty of the wood grain. White and red oak are favorite wood species used. Mission furniture designs were considered plain, but a much-welcomed relief to ornate Victorian furniture designs.

Quarter Saw Cut Showcases Dramatic White Oak Flecking

Quarter saw logs are cut on a radial angle. This means the log is cut into four quarters. This type of sawmill cut provides a stunning flecking effect in white oak.

Beginnings of Mission Furniture Style

Mission is a furniture style that was launched by AJ Forbes in 1894 when he designed a chair for the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco, CA, during the Arts and Crafts Movement. Named for the various mission churches in California, the design became very popular. It was seen in architectural home designs, interiors, art, and crafts.

Chair and Lamp with Garden View

First Mass Produced Mission Furniture

In 1898, New York furniture manufacturer, Joseph P. McHugh reproduced the chair design and expanded it into a line of the sophisticated style. Mission furniture style gained a spotlight at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition and it quickly became the furniture poster child for the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

Arts and Crafts Movement

In the late 1880s, William Morris was a founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The goal was to create pre-industrial handmade products with the intention of making these master craftsman home furnishings available to everyone.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School Architecture and Furniture

American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) led the architecture movement known as Prairie School during the Arts and Crafts Movement. He expanded his theory of organic architecture in his designs with an emphasis on craftsmanship.

  • The buildings featured horizontal lines.
  • The roofs were low hipped, flat lines with broad overhangs.
  • Plenty of windows were part of the concept of letting the outdoors in with an integration of nature into the design.
  • Windows were placed in long rows to afford greater visuals of outdoor elements.

Prairie School Architecture Furniture Designs

Many American Architects embraced the key elements of the Arts and Crafts Movement of simplicity, function and hand craftsmanship. They found the Prairie School Architecture a homegrown expression of this movement.

Southwestern Style Great Room

Total House Design Approach Included Furniture Designs

These architects also designed furniture for their home designs as part of their total design approach. The Prairie School Architecture furniture design style was inspired by the first Mission designs. These works of art included the typical vertical and horizontal lines created by rectangle spindles or slats.

Purcell & Elmslie

American Architects William Gray Purcell (1880-1965) and George Grant Elmslie (1869 -1952) were partners of the architectural firm Purcell & Elmslie. The firm was renowned for designing buildings in 22 states and two countries, China and Australia. They were also known for their custom designed built-in furniture as well as free-standing furniture for their buildings.

Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin

Wife and husband Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961) and Walter Burley Griffin (1894-1981) were a creative architect team and also designed furniture. A former friend and associate of Frank Lloyd Wright, Marion helped create the Prairie School Architecture.

George Washington Maher

Chicago architect George Washington Maher (1864-1926) furniture designs and decor creations, such as clocks, rug, lamps, and other pieces are part of Arts and Crafts museum collections. His furniture has a distinctive and easily recognized style of straight vertical lines, panels, tall rectangle backs and square feet.

Gustav Stickley Furniture Designer

Considered a purist of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, Gustav Stickley was well-known as a craftsman of Mission style furniture. Gustav Stickley believed that beautifully designed furniture could make life better through its perfect simplicity. Today, the Stickley name is synonymous with well-crafted furniture.

Arts and Crafts Stickley Oak Sideboard

Value of Stickley Furniture

Gustav Stickley furniture is the most desirable, since it was made during the heyday of the Mission furniture craze. Pieces signed with the original makers' mark are the priciest. Furniture made by L&JG Stickley ranks second behind their brother Gustav in popularity and price.

Stickley Brothers Furniture and Stickley and Brandt Collectibles

Stickley Brothers, followed by Stickley and Brandt, rank third and fourth respectively in terms of collectibles. In general, the earlier the date of the Mission furniture piece, the more desirable the design. Earlier Mission style furniture pieces are larger and bulkier; later pieces were scaled down and had considerably smaller and thinner legs, arms and tabletops.

Arts & Crafts vs Craftsman

Arts & Crafts shouldn't be confused with Craftsman. The Craftsman style developed in early 20th century as a solution to an architectural style for the average American family. It was used to describe homes, especially the Bungalow style, built from house plans featured in Gustav Stickley's magazine, The Craftsman.

Country Home Front Porch

Mission vs Shaker Furniture Styles

There are a few design similarities between Mission and Shaker furniture, such as straight lines, handmade by skilled craftsman, and simple designs without embellishments. However, the two furniture designs are separated by a couple of decades and specific design differences.

  • Shaker furniture feature narrow tapered legs while Mission furniture has bold square legs.
  • Shaker furniture leg designs sometimes have a slightly tilted outward design.
  • Mission furniture feature lots of vertical lines with the famous slat design.

Shaker Furniture Basics

Shaker furniture was developed in the late 1700s and early 1800s by the Shaking Quakers. Some of the distinguishing features include tapered legs, long finger joints, restrained curves, and round wooden knobs resembling mushroom caps.

Shaker chairs

Minimalism in Utilitarian and Functional Designs

The designs were physical representations of the Shaking Quakers ideology of simplicity and the utility afforded by minimalism. Unlike Mission furniture that favors oak wood species, Shaker furniture was made mostly from maple due to the region where it was crafted.

Mission Style Decorating Tips

Tips for decorating a living space in Mission style include paint colors, fabrics, patterns, and décor objects. The first thing you need to select is your color scheme.

  • To capture the feel of the Mission style, choose an earthy color palette, such as emerald or forest green, tan and contrasting browns, russet, sunflower yellow, poppy red, sky blue, and deep ocean blue.
  • You want to choose solid colored or geometric patterns for upholstery, draperies/curtains, decorative pillows, and throws.
  • Stained glass in geometric patterns is an ideal choice for a front door, windows over bookcases flanking a fireplace, or a window overlooking the staircase landing.

Locating Mission Style Furniture

Collecting antique furniture can be fun, although pricey if you are collecting authentic pieces. Furniture items that were hand crafted during the Arts and Crafts Movement are considered investments since the pieces will continue to grow in value. Reproductions are easily found in furniture store collections and can be purchased for reasonable prices. Places to find authentic Mission pieces include:

  • Mission Oak Shop features various furniture designers, such as Gustav Stickley, L&JG Stickley, Stickley Brothers, and others.
  • Gustav Stickley's Arts & Crafts Antique Gallery features a wide range of Mission style antique furniture.
  • Joe Nevo sells Stickley, Stickley Brothers, Gustav Stickley, L&JG Stickley, Harden, Lifetime, Limbert, Roycroft, and other antique Mission furniture.

Tips for Buying Authentic Mission Style Furniture

It is always important to educate yourself about collectibles before you dive in and spend your money. Mission furniture has been reproduced and passed off as authentic pieces for years. There are some important key signatures that make it easier to spot the genuine pieces from the fakes. A few things to be aware of before you buy include:

  • A maker's mark is very important to prove an item is authentic. Look for stamps and labels which indicate who manufactured the item.
  • Form and design are important in terms of value. If the piece of furniture is made in the Mission style but it isn't comfortable, its value will be much less. An example of this is the Mission style rocking chair - pretty to look at but uncomfortable to rock in.
  • Finish color, quality and original hardware are important to collectors because they can help determine the age of the piece. Original pieces were made with darker finishes to the wood.
  • Hardware should have a patina to reflect the age of the item.
  • Items stained a lighter color are less valuable, but they do exist.
  • Leather upholstery in good condition can greatly increase the value of the furniture piece, but it is extremely rare to find original leather cushions on Mission furniture.
  • Are all of the pieces to the item there? If a piece of furniture is damaged or missing cushions, pieces of wood or hardware, the value will be considerably less.

Furniture Society Information

The Arts and Crafts Society, Society of American Period Furniture Makers and The Furniture Society are great resources for collectors. You can use them to check out Mission furniture pieces before you invest in any purchases.

Examining and Assessing Mission Style Furniture and Decor Items

Authentic Mission furniture pieces are easier to identify when you know the common features and traits of Mission designs. Once you understand what to look for in examining and assessing Mission style furniture and decor items you can save time and money.

Mission Style Furniture and Decor Traits