Arts and Crafts Movement Furniture

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever heard of Gustav Stickley? Can furniture make a statement about craftsmanship? In this lesson, learn about furniture created during the Arts and Crafts Movement.

What was the Arts and Crafts Movement?

The nineteenth century world was one of great change.

Industrialization and manufacturing meant people could buy many more things, but they weren't always of good quality. Around the 1850s in Britain, a design movement developed to challenge the impact of the Industrial Revolution on manufactured goods. The Arts and Crafts Movement included fine art, architecture, design, and decorative arts like ceramics and furniture.

It came about through the ideas of reformers like British artist and writer William Morris (1834-1896), who wanted to recapture the spirit of quality and workmanship found in medieval guilds. Morris and his followers believed that good design was important for everyone, as was excellent craftsmanship. They developed a style to mirror their beliefs. It had simple clean lines in contrast to the cluttered taste and styles of the Victorian period.

In England, the Arts and Crafts style reached its height between 1880 and 1910. The style also spread to the United States, where it was very popular between roughly 1910 and 1925.

Arts and Crafts Movement Furniture

In the United States, several furniture manufacturers became famous for work in the Arts and Crafts style. Among them was Gustav Stickley (1858-1942), who believed mass-produced furniture was poorly constructed and too complicated. Stickley started a company in Upstate New York to build furniture with quality materials and excellent craftsmanship. He didn't completely reject industrialization because basic furniture forms were started in a factory, but then finished by hand.

Example of furniture manufactured by Gustav Stickley, in this case a dropfront desk, ca. 1903
Stickley dropfront desk

Other artists and manufacturers began to make similar fine-quality wooden furniture, including Greene and Greene, the Roycroft community, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Sometimes you'll see the names 'Mission style' and 'Craftsman style' connected to these furniture styles.

Suite of dining room furniture manufactured by Greene and Greene of Ohio, ca. 1908
dining room furniture suite by Green and Green

Appearance of Arts and Crafts Movement Furniture

In general, furniture done in the Arts and Crafts style is very rectilinear, meaning it has many straight lines, often with an emphasis on vertical and elongated forms. It's usually made of dark wood like stained oak, and any hardware is made of wood or simple metal shapes. If it's upholstered, like an armchair, the covering is leather or some other simple colored natural cloth. You won't find fussy floral prints or overstuffed settees in Arts and Crafts furniture.

Adjustable-back Stickley armchair with leather upholstery, ca. 1900-1904
Stickley armchair

In general, the decoration on these furniture pieces is minimal, allowing the natural materials and crafted details to shine.

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