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Armchair, 1907 - 1913 designed by Gustav Stickley
Armchair, 1907 – 1913, designed by Gustav Stickley

Joseph McHugh, a New England furniture maker, is credited with coining the phrase “mission-style furniture.” A chair McHugh found in a church in San Francisco, California, in the 1890s served as the inspiration for a collection of furniture that shares a similar aesthetic. Although the design inspiration for mission furniture has little to do with the Spanish religious missionaries and their culture, the word “mission” is a tribute to the Spanish missionaries who arrived in Northern California then. More specifically, mission-style furniture was a reaction against what was thought to be the overly decorative Victorian furniture that rose to popularity in the mid-to-late 1800s.

Offshoot of Arts and Craft Movement

Mission furniture was an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States. The furniture reflects Arts and Crafts aesthetic values in both examples more closely than most British designs. Mission furniture was so named because its proponents believed it had a purposeโ€”design utility. Gustav Stickley, in particular, was a fervent supporter of William Morris’ theories. As a result, Stickley’s furniture was made in a workplace set up as a quasi-socialist commune. On the other hand, the Roycroft Community was little more than a factory.

Mahogany Cellarette made at Roycroft
Mahogany Cellarette made at Roycroft.

Characteristics

Mission furniture featured a simple, rectilinear style with exposed construction techniques, simple materials (typically oak with leather canvas or plain cloth coverings), and little or no embellishment. The Mission style influenced works by Greene and Greene, Arthur and Lucia Mathew on the west coast, the Prairie School, and Frank Lloyd Wright in the Midwest. The Arts and Crafts gospel was promoted through Stickley’s publication The Craftsman.

Chest, 1903 designed by Gustav Stickley
Chest, 1903, designed by Gustav Stickley

Sources

Boyce, C. (1985). The Wordsworth Dictionary of Furniture. Wordsworth Reference.

Studios, V. W. (n.d.). Mission Furniture 101: Everything You Need to Know – Vermont Woods Studios. Mission Furniture 101: Everything You Need to Know – Vermont Woods Studios. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://vermontwoodsstudios.com/content/mission-furniture-101

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