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What Is a Mission Bookcase?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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As its name suggests, a Mission bookcase is a book storage unit which has been created in accordance with the design principles of the Mission style. This style, which became popular in the United States in the early 20th century, emerged in part as a backlash against the mass-produced and extremely ornate furniture common at the time. Like all furniture of this style, a Mission bookcase is generally minimalist, features strong vertical and horizontal lines, and is usually made from a solid wood which has been stained in a rich hue. Beyond these basic characteristics, the specific design features of a Mission bookcase can vary from one unit to another.

The Mission design style became popular in the United States in the early 20th century. It is seen by many design experts as an American outgrowth of the British Arts and Crafts movement, which encouraged a return to handcrafted, thoughtfully-designed furniture. This emphasis on artisanal design was provoked by the increasing ubiquity of mass-produced furniture made possible by the spread of industrialization. With its special stress on simplicity, the Mission style was likely also conceived as an alternative to the elaborate Art Nouveau designs popular at the end of the 19th century.

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Like all furniture of this style, a Mission bookcase is generally minimalist in design and utilizes little or no decorative hardware. It usually features strong vertical and horizontal lines, lending the unit a sense of simplicity and sturdiness, and it stands on four square legs rather than resting directly on the floor. Often, its sole stylistic flourish comes from the use of evenly spaced and sized vertical rungs or laths to make up its side panels. Traditionally, a Mission bookcase was made from a solid wood, especially oak, which was stained to a rich hue such as cherry, walnut, or golden brown. Modern interpretations of Mission bookcases, especially budget ones, may be made from particleboard or another wood composite, and may feature finish colors not generally seen in traditional models.

Beyond these fundamental characteristics, the exact design of a Mission bookcase can vary from one unit to another. Some, for instance, feature simple glass doors, the panes of which are crisscrossed with thin wooden laths. Further, while many Mission bookcases have solid backs, some utilize an open-backed design. While these open-backed models are usually less heavy in appearance than their closed-backed counterparts, they are not necessarily less sturdy.

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