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What is a Mission-Style Desk?

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  • Written By: B. Turner
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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A mission-style desk is a writing desk designed in the mission, or craftsman, style of architecture. This design style draws on the style of 18th-century Spanish missionaries in the southwestern United States (US). These missionaries came to the US and created homes and furnishings based on inspiration from their homeland, as well as from their surroundings. Because the Spanish missionaries had limited woodworking and design skills, mission style desks from this period tend to feature a very basic form, with clean lines and little embellishment.

While the original mission style design was created out of necessity, this style was revived during the early 20th century by furniture maker Gustov Stickley. Stickley wanted to create pieces that were the antithesis of the ornate and fussy Victorian style of the period, which featured intricate designs and plenty of unnecessary detail. He created a line of furniture based on mission style design, bringing this style back into the public's attention.

A typical mission-style desk is characterized by its form, which consists of straight lines and no curves. The writing surface will often be smooth and free of clutter, and the desk likely comes with a matching straight-backed chair. Both the chair cushion and desktop may include either wood or leather surfacing depending on design. A mission-style desk may include horizontal support members to both reinforce the vertical framing and add a touch of elegance to the design.

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Most missionaries during the 18th century only had access to local materials, and built their furnishings out of a few specific wood species. As a result, a modern mission-style desk typically includes these same basic materials, namely oak and leather. The desk is often held together using traditional fasteners, which are made from either iron or copper. The intent of mission style design is for the furniture to draw its visual appeal from natural elements, not embellishments.

Because mission style design drew some of its inspiration from the so-called arts and crafts movement of the period, a mission style desk will likely feature extremely high-quality construction. This includes heavy-duty, solid construction to give the desk a substantial look. It also includes features like finger joints at corners for added stability and strength.

While mission style furniture can take on any color or finish, the average mission-style desk will likely feature a dark colored stain. Darker, richer colors help to draw attention to the quality construction of the piece. Of course, buyers may also choose to refinish these desks in other shades to complement existing d├ęcor.

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