Today’s popular Mission furniture had its beginnings in the English Arts and Crafts Movement of the 1860s. John Ruskin and William Morris, leaders of the movement, designed simple, functional furniture as a reaction against the flamboyance of the Victorian era.
The paradox of this movement was that designers believed furniture and accessories should be affordable and available to everyone. The handcrafting, though, made them priced for the elite.
Mission furniture: simplicity and functionality
The Arts and Crafts Movement made its way to America, and it held the same principles of functionality and simplicity. It consisted of custom designs of homes and furniture for the upper class as well as less expensive, mass-produced environments for the middle class. Here is where the Industrial Revolution helped close the class gap by making the same style of furniture available to everyone.
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Gustav Stickley was the best-known designer of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, and he was considered its leader.
The Morris Chair
In 1895, he visited England and was inspired by the well-built, simple furniture Ruskin and Morris were making. He also embraced the Socialist idea of good conditions for factory workers. In 1900, he created a new line of furniture, New Furniture. It had simple lines, plain surfaces, mortise and tenon joinery that was visible, and natural materials.
Part of the new line was the Morris Chair, based on a design of William Morris’. This is the Mission Chair we know today.
Morris’ design of oak, on the market in 1866, had an adjustable reclining slat back, turned spindles and leather or wool upholstery. Sometimes the wood was ebonized.
Stickley’s Morris Chair was made of quarter-sawn white oak with visible mortise and tenon joinery, wide armrests, flat slats on the sides and leather upholstery. The back reclined slightly, but was not adjustable. Stickley mass-produced these in factories, and he provided comfortable and reasonable working conditions for his employees. By mass-producing and mass-marketing his furniture, it was available to all classes, not just the affluent.
Mission style furniture spells cozy!
The simplicity of Arts and Crafts design fell out of favor as complex, eclectic Art Nouveau was taking root. Each design era rebels against the last, and this was no exception.
Mission style furniture is still very popular today. It can be either mass-produced or handcrafted, and it comes in several types of wood and finishes, unlike the originals. Upholstery is brighter and maybe patterned, but leather is still common.
The simple lines of Mission furniture fit in with any décor today. The natural materials blend in with the overall feel of a country theme. The sleek lines are modern and minimalistic for a contemporary feel.
I picture a traditional Mission chair near a bookshelf with a (Mission) side table and a floor lamp. That spells cozy to me!