When you watch home renovation shows or those about couples buying their first home, it seems like “Craftsman-style” always comes up. People are looking for Craftsman-style houses with great details, since these accents really add interest and make them stand out of from the cookie-cutter suburban homes that are so often found. But what about Craftsman-style furniture?
History of the Arts and Crafts Movement
Back in the late 19th century, influential artists and thinkers started calling for the return of true craftsmanship that used natural materials and design aesthetics. The movement began in Great Britain as a reaction to Victorian design and the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution.
Victorian-era designs were produced to meet the demand of ornateness and were all about form over function. Victorian-era furniture producers weren’t necessarily worried about the quality, and often the pieces were made of poor-quality materials, causing them to have a short lifespan.
With the advent of factories that produced the same piece of furniture en masse, the quality of the finished product declined. These factory-produced items were often made by immigrant workers, even children, that had little to no experience in that craft. Though the Arts and Crafts Movement was opposed to the use of machinery, some of its adherents would still use machinery if the quality produced from it was high enough to reach the artisan’s standards.
What we know today as the Craftsman style was originally a subset of the Arts and Crafts Movement and is short for craftsmanship. It lasted from about 1890 to 1920 and was a style prominent in America. In the U.S., in a country that praises democracy, the movement was most appealing to the middle class. Many of those that enjoyed the items produced by these artisans were rural and small town patrons who were looking for a comfortable way of life. Artisans in the U.S. combined craftsman skill with machinery in order to produce more products while still maintaining the quality of the work.
Craftsman Movement in America
While it was William Morris who came to embody the Arts and Crafts Movement in Great Britain, in the U.S. the major influencers were Frank Lloyd Wright, Elbert Hubbard, and Gustav Stickley. In 1898, Stickley founded his company, Gustav Stickley & Co., to produce furniture that incorporated the ideals of Arts and Crafts. He also published a monthly magazine called “The Craftsman” that espoused the ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement. This magazine was a big influence on the design world along with the public at large.
In addition to Craftsman furniture, this movement influenced architecture as well. Homes were built with lots of light, spacious rooms, and little ornamentation. Even today, potential buyers get excited about the thought of owning a Craftsman home.
Style of Craftsman Products
Unlike many design styles, Craftsman products didn’t have a particular design element that inherently made them Craftsman. The point of this movement was to create simple designs that were executed to perfection. Essentially, it was all about high-quality work.
Furniture produced by Stickley, along with his employees, in particular, is considered Craftsman furniture. The style was distinguished by being simple, useful, and beautiful. In fact, Stickley called the line of his Arts and Crafts furniture by the name of Craftsman.
One subset of this style included Mission-style oak furniture featuring clean, simple lines. Since then, the Mission style has caught on, and you can find many furniture manufacturers that produce pieces in this style. That doesn’t mean they have the same quality as Stickley’s pieces, however.
How to Identify Craftsman Furniture
Because the Craftsman movement focuses on quality, true Craftsman pieces will be heavy. Since they’re made of solid wood, they’re often heavier than other less-quality pieces of the same size. Because the pieces aren’t mass produced, there are slight differences from one piece to another.
You can also look for a mark on the furniture that indicates it’s a true Craftsman piece. Almost all authentic pieces have some sort of mark, whether it be a tag, label, or burn mark. Just note that it’s possible for tags to be salvaged from other pieces and put on ones that are not true Craftsman. If you’re looking to buy a piece of antique Craftsman furniture, do your research to ensure it truly is authentic.
The Craftsman Movement Today
Though the American Craftsman furniture movement ended almost a century ago, you can still see its influence today. Search for “American Craftsman furniture” on a search engine, and you’ll receive results from many for modern versions of this furniture. Some are made by artisans that take the concepts of Craftsman seriously, while others take the style of Craftsman furniture, particularly the Mission style, and produce less-quality knockoffs. But if you really search, you can get new, quality pieces in this style.
Craftsman is a classic style that is well-loved by many. Despite the movement ending, its influences have reverberated throughout the years. You’ll find it in any piece of furniture that has clean straight lines, evenly spaced slats, practical uses, and especially those made of natural, solid wood. You’ll find it with craftsmen who take the work of creating furniture seriously — those who want to build high-quality products that you won’t find on just any furniture store showroom. When you choose contemporary furniture in the Craftsman style — a true Craftsman piece — you’re choosing quality and beauty over a mass-produced, low-quality piece.
There’s so much to love about the Craftsman movement. Are you a fan of Craftsman-style furniture? What’s your favorite thing about it? Do you believe that owning a Craftsman-style home means you should embrace Craftsman-style furniture as well? Let us know in the comments.