On the modern market for solid oak furniture, you can find pieces that are constructed under the principles of various design styles. One of the more popular of these styles is the Mission style furniture. Known for its clean vertical and horizontal lines, the Mission style offers a somewhat understated design that helps to bring out the natural qualities of the material and the workmanship.
For many, when they think of Mission style furniture, their mind goes to the old Spanish missions of the American West. Though the pieces do take their name from an association with Mission style architecture, they actually owe more to design movements that came from England and the Eastern United States.
What we know as Mission style furniture does not actually owe its design to the furniture that was originally used in the Spanish missions of colonial California. However, a movement of Mission Revival Architecture that became popular in the 19th Century commonly used these pieces to furnish the structures that were built under this style. Through this association, the furniture eventually took on the name.
Originally, furniture makers referred to this style as the Arts & Crafts style or Craftsman furniture. In a way, the clean, simple designs were intended to be a statement about the Industrial Revolution. With many being tired of the mass produced furniture that had started to flood the market, consumers started to look for pieces that emphasized the qualities of hand craftsmanship. This was not only a statement against the mass produced factory pieces, but it was also an idea in support of goods that were made by the individual artisan.
Mission style furniture owes its design inspiration to the American Arts & Crafts movement, which was directly influenced by the British Arts & Crafts movement. This was an expression against the decadence of the Victorian era and the erosion of skilled labor that came with the Industrial Revolution.
The popularization of the Mission furniture name comes from it being used in the marketing of certain lines that came in the Arts & Crafts or Craftsman style. A key figure in the history of Mission style furniture was Gustav Stickley. Though he stuck strictly to calling his furniture by the Craftsman and Arts & Crafts names and he had a dislike for calling it Mission style, many of his furniture designs would be considered Mission style by today’s standards.
Stickley was a New York furniture maker that was heavily influenced by the British Arts & Crafts movement and its American counterpart. When he set out to design his own furniture, he drew inspiration from the Arts & Crafts movement and other popular design ideas like those used in furniture under the Shaker design style. In addition to being a key figure in the American Arts & Crafts design movement, he also published The Craftsman; a magazine intended to promote the ideals of the Arts & Crafts movement and showcase the home and furniture designs of those in the movement.
Though the name might be a bit misleading, Mission style furniture does have a rich history and it is a school of design thought that is rooted in more than just furniture making. Though most Mission style furniture that you find today is factory made, there is nothing like a piece that is handmade from oak. It is a style that lends itself particularly well to handcrafting and the simplicity of the design makes it good for a variety of different interior design styles.