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Mission Style Furniture

Pete Maloney

McHugh Mission Furniture ChairThe descriptive name "mission furniture" was first coined by Joseph McHugh, a New York furniture manufacturer and retailer, to describe his line of straight line rustic style furniture that he began producing about 1895. The mission style furniture design was based on a chair that had been designed for the Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem in San Francisco, circa 1894-1985. The mission chair was a simple rush-seated chair. The design of the church and the chairs were influenced by the Spanish missions of the area, thus the term "mission furniture". The architectural office of A. Page Brown had architects Bernard Maybeck and A.C. Schweinfurth design the church and they chose this mission style.

Mission furniture caught on as a generic term for the style of furniture and also the European term "arts & crafts" was used. At about the same time that McHugh was commercializing his line of mission furniture, Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley were developing their own designs. Gustav Stickley Furniture Morris Chair - Mission Style FurnitureMany of the pieces had transitional designs that combined both Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, but by 1900 the designs of Stickley and Roycroft became more straight lined and developed into the familiar mission style, as we know it. Interestingly, both McHugh and Stickley exhibited at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York with McHugh winning a silver medal.

Mission style furniture really caught on around the turn of the century. At that time many homes were furnished with either mission furniture or Victorian furniture or both. Many firms started manufacturing a line of mission furniture or were totally dedicated to this style. The best known firm and considered to be the best in terms of design and quality was the Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley. Some of the other individuals and companies making a significant contribution to the manufacturing and design of mission furniture were; L&JG Stickley, Stickley Brothers, Charles Limbert, Charles Rohlfs, Grand Rapids Bookcase and Chair Company (Lifetime), The Shop of the Crafters, Frank Lloyd Wright and Greene and Greene. Arts and Crafts author Bruce Johnson does make a distinction between mission style furniture and arts and crafts furniture in that he believes that mission style furniture describes a lower quality more basic style of furniture, while the term arts and crafts is reserved for higher quality more developed designs, such as those executed by Gustav Stickley and his peers. Come 1910, everyone and their dog were producing mission furniture and much of it was poorly built and designed so maybe this furniture would fall under the more narrowly defined category of mission furniture?

Today, mission furniture is once again ubiquitous, being produced by many manufacurers from one man craftshops to medium and large national manufacturers. As in the past, quality levels vary widely with some furniture being made of solid quatersawn oak and other pieces being pressboard and laminate. It is interesting how approximatly 100 years after the development of the mission furniture design, that a very similar revival of the style has taken place and is still going strong.

Sources:
Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute (1993). "The Distinction of Being Different" Joseph P. McHugh and the American Arts and Crafts Movement
David Rago and Bruce Johnson (2003). The Official Price Guide to American Arts and Crafts. House of Collectibles.

 


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