Mission Style Furniture – Complete Guide


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Mission-style furniture is the quintessential example of furniture made in a simple style. It is tough, heavy, and durable. Traditionally, craftsmen made this furniture using red or white oak. Nowadays craftsmen use other woods like ash, cherry, maple, and walnut to make Mission-style furniture.

Mission-style furniture is sturdy and sometimes even chunky. You can identify it by the straight vertical and horizontal lines, rectangular or square legs and spindles, and durable construction. The furniture is simple with no decoration, highlighting the straight lines and flat panels that emphasize the grain of the wood. 

The History of Mission-style Furniture

Mission style chair vector

The Mission-style of furniture originated in the late 19th century. It dates back to a chair made by A.J.Forbes, around 1894 for the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco. A furniture manufacturer and retailer in New York, Joseph P. Mchugh, copied the design of this chair and offered a line of related furnishings by 1898.

Joseph Mchugh first coined the term “Mission style furniture.” This type of furniture was simple and pleasing to the eye. Mission-style furniture became very popular because it was different from the Victorian ornamental style of furniture. Victorian furniture was popular during the mid-to-late 1800s.

The industrial revolution of the early 1800s depreciated the value of high-quality, handmade goods. People opted for cheap, mass-produced furniture. Then in the years between 1900 and 1915, Mission-style furniture took the market by storm due to its simplistic style.

The American Craftsman Era

 

Mission-style furniture flourished during this era. People appreciated high-quality handmade goods and also the people who made them. This was also known as the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 1900s.

Gustav Stickley was one of the most influential Mission-style furniture craftsmen of the early 1900s. Stickley operated a manufacturing unit in Pennsylvania. At first, he produced plain and solid handcrafted oak furniture. Later, he and his competitors used machines and handcrafting techniques to manufacture furniture on a larger scale.

Basics of Mission Style Furniture

Mission-style furniture aesthetics include straight lines, 90-degree angles, wood material, heavy-duty grain pattern, handcrafting, and practicality.

Straight Lines

A wooden dining table and four wooden chairs on a white background

This style of furniture has no contours. You’ll notice straight lines for legs and flat surfaces for table tops. These are void of any décor. The joinery remains exposed while assembling the furniture. This showcases the skill and precision needed to do the job. This type of furniture fits anywhere, be it in modern homes, cabins, or offices.

90-degree Angles

The furniture consists of straight lines with no tapering. All the sections are at right angles to each other.

Wood Material

In the late 19th century, craftsmen used only solid, natural wood to make furniture. Mission-style furniture is usually made from oak, although variations do occur.

Medium or Dark Stained Pieces

 

Wood staining enhances the color of the wood and also brings out the natural grain of the wood. It is very important for your furniture, as wood ages differently. Choose a stain that enhances the natural grains and characteristics of the wood and protects it from any water damage.

Grain Pattern

The key to Mission-style furniture is simplicity. The style is in the basics of each piece of furniture, structural framework, and all other aspects involved.

Slats, Panels & Metal Latches

Parallel slats, Shaker-style panels, and simple metal hardware are basic designs of Mission furniture. Exposed joineries and stained-glass detail are some of the other features you might observe.

Heavy-Duty Furniture

Craftsmen made Mission-style furniture keeping a simple philosophy in mind. The early 1900s is when Mission-style furniture became popular. People wanted sturdy furniture that would last a lifetime. So, they made furniture using incredibly durable, solid wood.

Handcrafted Aesthetic

 

Today, a new style of Mission-style furniture has come into being. It’s in stark contrast to the modern furniture found in stores nowadays. Pieces available at furniture stores aren’t handcrafted like in the 19th century, but the handcrafted aesthetic charm remains.

Practical Uses

There’s hardly any ornamentation on Mission-style furniture. Craftsmen use simple copper or iron hardware for functional purposes only.

Craftsmen made furniture keeping one or two specific purposes in mind. It was either to store things or to give someone a place to rest. The designs were very down-to-earth because in those days only the utility value of items mattered. The styles present today were all but obsolete way back then.

The American Arts-and-Crafts Movement

 

The Mission style is also known as the craftsman style. All that mattered was craftsmanship and quality. Simple and practical, Mission-style furniture emphasized the artistry of woodworking and the value of well-made pieces.

Craftsman furniture is easily identified by its solid wood construction. Hardwoods such as oak, cherry, and walnut are often finished with a warm, rich stain. This emphasizes the wood’s natural grain. You’ll rarely see paint or matte finishes on craftsman or Mission furniture.

Mission-Style – Furniture with a Modern Edge

Leick Home 8233 Mission Impeccable Two Drawer Hall Console Table with Shelf, Medium Oak
Mission Style Console Table (Amazon)

Mission-style furniture remains popular even today. People like it because of the old-world charm it exudes. It provides a peaceful escape from today’s tech-crazy world. We can still have Mission-style furniture by making a few changes to modern furniture as follows:

Keep the lines clean, and change the final finish from light to dark.

Mission-style furniture looks modern with a dark stain. This also helps to bring out the hard lines which is the trademark of Mission-style furniture.

Incorporate more storage space

 

In the 1900s Mission-style furniture was simple, but it didn’t always make the best use of space. For example, in those days coffee tables were just coffee tables. Today, craftsmen design coffee tables in a very clever way. Lift the tops of the coffee tables and you find hidden storage space inside. At the same time, they also have a very aesthetic look about them.

Make it smart

Even the nightstands made today, are modern despite being Mission-style furniture. They have USB ports to charge your cell phones, but they still retain their strong, sturdy, and traditional look.

Leather Upholstery for Mission Style Furniture

Leather is the first choice when we need material to make Mission designs. It’s durable and you can dye it in a variety of colors to suit any home. It is possible to repair leather or re-upholster it. There’s no need to date your furniture to find a match because leather is timeless.

Incorporate Mission Furniture with the Eclectic Designs of Today

Domesis Mission Style - Linen Arm Chair with Exposed Cherry Wood Frame, Dove Gray
Mission Style – Linen Arm Chair (Amazon)

Living Room Furniture

 

To incorporate the Mission look, a living room provides you with many opportunities. Mission-style tables with slatted sides, and bottom shelves, with drawers included are perfect. A wooden rocking chair with Mission-style slats will give your living room a warm look.

Bedroom Furniture

You should pair a slatted wooden headboard with a pair of craftsman dressers, and then add a Mission-style nightstand to complete the look.

Dining Room Furniture

The best place for Mission-style furniture is the dining room. The dining table needs to be strong and reliable because of the number of multiple plates, dishes, and place settings. The dining room is bound to look great if the table has slatted Mission dining chairs.

Office Furniture

A practical wooden desk with plenty of storage space or a Mission bookcase with plenty of shelves is sure to give the office a classy look. A slatted back desk chair will enhance the look.

Mission-style Furniture vs Shaker-style Furniture

There is a common tendency to club Mission-style furniture and Shaker-style furniture together. Although they share similarities, each type is unique in its own way.

To start with, Mission-style furniture as we have mentioned was established by an individual named Joseph McHugh. This furniture is often associated with the Amish, which is incorrect.

It was the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing commonly known as the “Shaking Quakers” that brought Shaker-style furniture into existence.

Also, both styles of furniture came into existence in different eras. While Shaker-style furniture emerged in the late 1700s to the early 1800s, Mission-style furniture appeared quite a few decades later. But both of them originated in New England

Other than the difference in origins, there are a few other differences that distinguish one style from the other. First, while Mission-style furniture mostly uses oak, you will get Shaker-style furniture made of several other natural kinds of wood like elm, sycamore, beech birch, cherry, poplar, ash, and maple. The common factor is that both styles use solid, natural wood.

Another difference is that you get more frequent lines and intricate carvings with Mission-style furniture, whereas Shaker-style furniture is quite stark.

Conclusion

white oak, dark mission dye, cellarette (liquor cabinet), 2007
Image Credit: Rich via Creative Commons

Made to last a lifetime or two, Mission furniture is incredibly sturdy! It weathers the heavy use in colleges, homes, and halls. It imparts an authentic feel to its environment. Mission-style furniture lends a subtle sense of style to any environment.

It is furniture that is sustainable to the core because it is locally sourced and made of solid hardwood. As wood is a renewable resource, it is the most climate-friendly carbon-neutral material used to make furniture. Hardwood furniture like Mission-style furniture serves as a carbon sink because it is long-lasting.

You can give solid wood furniture a fresh lease of life through refinishing, recycling, reusing, or upcycling the original piece. The beauty of Mission-style furniture lies in its finish and attention to detail. If you are lucky enough to possess Mission furniture, make the best use of it!