The late 19th century saw a revival of an architectural movement that was deeply inspired by early Spanish Catholic missions located throughout the Southwestern
United States and Mexico. Later called the Mission revival style, the period from 1980 to 1915, when it reached it most popular peak, saw numerous establishments sporting architectural characteristics and designs similar to those stone structures built by the friars of long ago. Furniture inspired by this style also came out of the woodwork, one of the most notable of which would be mission style lamps.
But first, a brief background on the history of the Mission revival style. From the period of 1769 to 1823, Franciscan friars came to the Americas to convert the native people to the Catholic faith. They established small communities and introduced the populace to European livestock, produce and ranching. However, due to a lack of architectural and construction knowledge and resources, these Spaniards were only able to build simple structures that covered the barest of their basic needs for shelter.
Each structural design shelter is highly characterized by the use of massive, unadorned broad walls and low-pitched clay tile roofs with wide eaves. Interiors had long, arcaded corridors. For a more decorative edge, piered arches and curved gables were also utilized. Exterior walls made of abode where further coated with stucco to provide additional structural support.
Although the missions ended in the early 1800s, its architectural style and design had a revival of sorts and the simple structural characteristics deeply inspired a
new breed of architects who would later incorporate this basic aesthetic to
some of California’s rich structural heritage. Some worth mentioning are David Owen Dryden, who designed and built numerous mission style-inspired structures all along the San Diego North Park district; and Frank Lloyd Wright, who is credited with the conceptual development of middle-class home design aesthetics.
The first mission style furniture is believed to have originated from English architect Philip Webb who in 1859, designed and built a house for his good friend and corporate partner, William Morris. Later dubbed the Red House, it was designed
with a holistic and functional approach in mind meaning to denounce the
excesses and industrialized concepts of the Victorian-era. Due to this simple design value, the interiors and furnishing were made to follow the exterior’s aesthetic and
In America, the idea of mission style furniture came from A.J. Forbes, who
in 1894, constructed a chair deeply inspired by this movement for the
Swendenborgian Church of San Francisco. The term mission style was eventually made popular by New York furniture manufacturer and retailer, Joseph McHugh, who copied
the Forbes’ chair design and further developed a line with pieces carrying the
same design aesthetic. The line became such a huge hit after a successful showcase which was featured at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo,
A number of designers and corporations have also played important roles in the development and manufacture of mission style furniture to the public. There is Gustav
Stickley, whose company Craftman’s Workshops produced nostalgic handcrafted
furniture pieces following the mission style aesthetic.
There is also Charles Limbert, whose corporation Limbert Furniture Company made use of quarter-sawn oak wood in the creation of their products. This type of sawing produces a decorative grainy pattern that is ideal for mission style pieces. It also lessens the probability of wood warping due to changes in humidity and moisture. These are only but a few personages who have contributed to the popularity of this design.
The mission revival style has also been incorporated in almost every type of furniture imaginable. From comfortable chairs to tables to beds, all have been designed with the mission style aesthetic in mind. But one of the most enduring pieces would be
the lamps inspired by this mission revival scene. Similar to other pieces, these lighting
fixtures carry the same simple horizontal and vertical lined characteristic
that has made this style so popular. The flat paneled, simple pieces that accentuate the wooden grain of its material were such a huge relief to the public after the excesses that characterized Victorian-era furniture and style.
Although the mission revival style period has long since reached its heyday, one cannot doubt the enduring capability of this movement. Similarly inspired pieces
are still being continuously produced by modern furniture makers — truly a
remarkable testament to its staying power. No doubt the public will still continue seeing similar pieces of furniture – particularly mission style lamps – adorning homes all across the world in the years to come.