What is a Mission Style Coffee Table?

Sheri Cyprus

A Mission style coffee table is a heavy, rectangular or square piece of furniture made to hold drinks and other items in a living room. Its style is part of the Mission, or Arts and Crafts, furnishings that began as handcrafted wood items in the late 1800s in both Great Britain and North America. Mission style furniture, including coffee tables, is typically heavy, straight-lined and rustic in appearance. Both a Mission style coffee table as well as seating made for a living room are distinctive in style, as they commonly feature rows of posts, or spindles.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The spindles in a Mission coffee table usually appear on both sides. They may be thick or thin as well as spaced either far apart or close together. Some Mission style coffee table designs have the spindles across the entire sides, while others have them in the centers only, leaving the ends open. Spindles placed close together may form a bottom shelf. Sometimes, wooden slats or solid wood may be used for a lower coffee table shelf.

Cross strips of wood attached in patterns on the spindles are common. Other than these decorative wood cross strips, embellishments on Mission style furniture are usually nonexistent. The heavy, geometric, rustic Mission style is associated with many designers and architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, John Ruskin and Gustav Stickley. The wood tones used to hand craft, or typically today, mass produce, a Mission style coffee table range from light unfinished to dark stained. Oak and birch are two classic woods used for these pieces, but many other wood types can also be made into Mission style coffee tables, seating, dining tables and more.

Mission style coffee tables and other furniture were inspired by sturdy, large farmhouse pieces. When handcrafted Mission furniture first appeared, it offered an alternative to the delicate, dainty Victorian furnishings. It was also designed to be more affordable. Since a Mission style coffee table is typically simple and clean lined, yet also often warm as well as rustic, it tends to mix well with many different types of living room decors.

While the hallmarks of the Mission furniture style are straight lines, once in a while a design may include a curve such as at the bottom edge of an otherwise angular coffee table. Any curved lines in Mission furniture are minimal. If a Mission style coffee table does contain drawers, the handle pulls are classically simple brass ones.

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