What is Mission Style Furniture?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Mission style furniture is furniture which is designed to evoke the simple and solid furnishings used in the California missions established by the Spanish. This style of furniture is also known as Arts and Crafts furniture, because it arose during the Arts and Crafts Movement, and it shares many thematic elements with other types of design from this period, from salad bowls to entire houses. Like other legacies of the Arts and Crafts Movement, mission style furniture has a simple look, with clean lines and an elegant appearance, and it also has a handmade feel, even when it is produced in a factory.

Jewel tones, which are often used in mission style furniture.
Jewel tones, which are often used in mission style furniture.

Allegedly, the inspiration for mission style furniture was a single chair in a San Francisco church which was spotted by a furnituremaker in the late 1800s. The designer admired the rectilinear design of the chair and the simplicity, which allowed the natural beauty of the wood to shine through, and the mission style in furniture design was born.

Classically, mission style furniture is made out of quartersawn oak, oak which has been cut lengthwise through the center. This technique yields a rich pattern in the wood, which is brought out with varnishing which allows the wood to glow. Mission style furniture usually lacks paint, carving, and other ornamentation, with the wood itself being the ornament, and the wood may be arranged in columns or lattices to create visual interest without distracting people from the natural beauty of the furniture.

Fittings such as drawer pulls have classically been made from handwrought iron, although other materials are used in mass production today. Numerous other woods are also in use, including cherry and mahogany. True mission style furniture should be made from solid wood which has been quartersawn, with the finished product having a very bold, solid look. Mission style furniture is heavy and weighty, but not cumbersome.

Some noted producers of mission style furniture were Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley. These members of the Arts and Crafts Movement believed that furniture needed to be beautiful as well as functional, and that good design combined both needs to create pieces of lasting furniture with classic style. People utilize modern and vintage mission style pieces in their bedrooms, dining rooms, offices, libraries, and living rooms, among other places, and mission-inspired pieces are also very popular in some regions of the world.

When decorating with mission style pieces, people may want to integrate warm colors, earth tones, and jewel tones into their design. Rich colors tend to set off the tone of the wood best, and people who fear that materials like oak and cherry will be too dark for a room can obtain mission style furnishings made from lighter woods, or consider placing mission style furniture in rooms with pale walls.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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