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Arts and Crafts Furniture (1880-1910)

Are you having as much fun as we are exploring the history of American made furniture?  We hope you are!  In today’s blog we’ll take a look at a style of furniture that was around at the same time as the Victorian Style Era – Arts and Crafts furniture, also known as Mission style or Craftsmen style.  This style is characterized by rectilinear design, simple, straight construction, and exposed joinery, often using medium or dark stained oak.

Arts and Crafts was an international design movement that was led by artist and writer, William Morris during the 1860s and inspired by the writings of John Ruskin and Augustus Pugin.  While it first developed in the British Isles, it quickly spread to North America.  This movement was largely a reaction against the impoverished state of the decorative arts at the time as well as the conditions in which they were produced and challenged the tastes of the Victorian era.  It stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often applied medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. It advocated economic and social reform and has been said to be essentially anti-industrial.

In Europe, the Arts and Crafts style was created with the goal of produce beautiful objects that would enhance the lives of ordinary people, and at the same time provide decent employment for the craftsman. However, in time the English Arts and Crafts movement came to stress craftsmanship at the expense of mass market pricing. The result was exquisitely made and decorated pieces that could only be afforded by the very wealthy. Thus the idea of art for the people was lost, and only relatively few craftsman could be employed making these fine pieces.  In the US, however, the idea of this movement was more fully actualized.  The Stickley Company in New York was trying to serve a burgeoning market of middle class consumers who wanted affordable, decent looking furniture. By using factory methods to produce basic components, and utilizing craftsmen to finish and assemble, he was able to produce sturdy, serviceable furniture which was sold in vast quantities, and still survives.

Why was this style also referred to as “Mission style” in the US?  This term reflects the influence of traditional furnishings and interiors from the American Southwest, which had many features in common with the earlier British Arts and Crafts forms.  This style incorporated Hispanic and Native American influences into the designs. In fact, the collecting of Southwestern artifacts became very popular in the first quarter of the twentieth century partially because of these influences.

Join us next time as we look at the Art Noveau movement!  In the meantime, we hope this look to the past has inspired you in any decorating endeavours you’ve had in mind.  Drop by our showroom today so we can help you pick out the perfect furniture style, vintage or new!