A Return to Simplicity: Mission Style Furniture

With a passion for the environment and a love of nature, Gustav Stickley introduced simplicity to the American public in early 1900s. Drawing inspiration from the beauty of his native state, Wisconsin, Stickley’s philosophy of “organic architecture” was based on four ideas: a house should be constructed in harmony with it’s surroundings, local materials should be used in construction, artificial light should be kept at a minimum and natural light maximized, and an open floor plan should be used to encourage family interaction.
The time was right for a change after years of highly ornate Victorian influence in both architecture and furniture design. By contrast, the architectural designs featured in Stickley’s 1901 periodical, “The Craftsman,” expounded on the practical elegance of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The magazine, featuring designs by Stickley and architect Harvey Ellis, enjoyed a 15 year run during which it offered 221 different sets of floor plans. Its popularity led Stickley to establish the “Craftsman Home Builders Club” in 1903 to aid in spreading his concepts.
In 1904 Stickley traveled to California where he fell in love with the beauty of the old Spanish Missions. Upon his return to upstate New York he opened The Craftsman Workshops. Bold and angular in design, his utilitarian furniture pieces were made of American Tiger Oak and upholstery was limited to canvas and leather. The furniture featured exposed joinery, wood peg construction, and a fumed ammonia finish. Hardware, used only when required, was either beaten copper or iron in the most basic of designs.
Not all Stickley furniture is Gustav’s work. There were five Stickely brothers, each a talented craftsman in his own right. The first to enter the furniture business was Charles Stickley. He married into the Brandt family in 1891 and formed the Stickley-Brandt Furniture Company. His furniture, while among the oldest of the Stickley works, is considered the least desirable by collectors.
Albert Stickley formed the Stickley Brothers company in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1891 with John George Stickley. While many consider this furniture to be a derivative of Gustav’s, one cannot dispute the quality of his work, especially his inlaid Arts & Crafts furniture.
Leopold and John George Stickley produced furniture for Toby Furniture in Chicago. Their own company, L&LG Stickley, opened in 1907, making furniture from 1907-1912 with a decal that read, “Handcraft L&JG Stickley.” In 1912, the furniture signature changed to “The Work of L&JG Stickley.”
The taste of the American public changed and they began to reject Gustav Stickley’s simple furniture designs, forcing him into bankruptcy in 1915. The man considered by many to have been the Father of the American Arts and Crafts Movement died in 1942.
The casual elegance of Mission style furniture has seen a revival in recent years as decorators once again realize it’s warmth and versatility. Its increasing popularity has driven up the price, forcing many to turn to reproductions. Exercise caution if buying “new” Mission furniture as the construction and materials are in many cases low quality. Some of the finest Modern Mission furniture is made by the L&LG Stickley Company. It can be found online and in select fine furniture galleries. Until next time . . . Linda

Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at lkennett@indy.rr.com or 317-258-7835