The popularity of Arts and Crafts furniture is part and parcel to the original rise and repeated resurgence of the Arts and Crafts Movement in American housing, design, and architecture.
As with all things concerning the Arts and Crafts style, the purpose is returning simplicity, beauty, quality, and functionality to our homes and lifestyles.
Popular furniture styles of the early and mid-19th century, prior to the Arts and Crafts Movement, tended to be elaborate in design with a Victorian flair. Many of these overly decorative pieces were poorly made
and did not withstand long-term use.
Industrialized design and manufacturing had resulted in mass-produced furniture made with cheap ornamentation that, though affordable, was viewed by many as inferior in quality and lacking in aesthetics.
Arts and Crafts furniture, in both England and America, stood in direct contrast to the popularity of industrialized, cheaply ornamental Victorian furniture styles. The answer of the Arts and Crafts Movement to cheap, ugly, mass-produced furniture was simplicity, durability and beauty of craftsmanship.
What is Arts and Crafts Furniture?
Arts and Crafts style furniture originally spread across America during the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Beautifully functional Arts and Crafts style homes were being constructed by builders and craftsmen using simple, aesthetic designs and durable raw materials. Artisans and craftsman furniture makers followed suit with furniture designs of the same philosophy and style.
While Victorian furniture was rich in decorative features, Arts and Crafts style furniture was simplistic with little to no decorative flair. While Victorian furniture was designed to impress on appearances alone, Arts and Crafts furniture was designed to impress on functionality and comfort. Victorian furniture was not known to stand up to years of use, but the Arts and Crafts movement created furniture that could be handed down through generations.
Over time, furniture craftsmen put their own spin on Arts and Crafts style furniture. For instance, Gustav Stickley and Harvey Ellis created Stickley furniture that followed the Arts and Crafts movement but with a lighter style.
Arts and Crafts products were typically heavy, since they were created from solid oak and other natural woods. Stickley managed to create lighter pieces that still adhered to the values of Arts and Crafts furniture.
The Greene brothers in California also introduced something new. Green and Greene furniture pieces were refined, luxurious, and often incorporated an Asian flair, but still maintained Arts and Crafts values with simple lines and a high level of comfort, quality, and functionality.
Today, these same values apply, but there are a variety of design aesthetics at play. Mission style furniture, Craftsman furniture, and Stickley furniture are all terms that communicate an Arts and Crafts style, but each has its own specific origin and definition.
How to Identify Arts and Crafts Style Furniture
Arts and Crafts furniture will always be made with solid oak and other natural woods. You are not limited to pieces created by well-known craftsmen of the original Arts and Crafts Movement. Those antique pieces are excellent additions to any Arts and Crafts style home, but there are also many current manufacturers and individual craftsmen designing and building modern Arts and Crafts style furniture.
These modern craftsmen still adhere to the basic principles embraced by craftsmen of the original Arts and Crafts movement. They craft their furniture pieces by hand from the finest woods available. They do not cut corners with modern machinery, and they avoid mass production.
Arts and Crafts furniture pieces will show have marks of being made by hand, one piece at a time. They will often be heavy and of substantial size. They will be solid, functional pieces designed to stand up to years of active use. They will feature straight, simple design lines. They will be constructed of natural, organic, hand-crafted materials. In general, Arts and Crafts style furniture will be simple, functional, comfortable, and beautiful.
Common Elements of Arts and Crafts Furniture
Arts and Crafts style furniture can vary from craftsman to craftsman, company to company. Below is a list of elements common to most pieces.
- simple rectilinear design
- straight lines
- simple arches or curves
- rich, natural, solid woods
- eased edges
- high quality, refined craftsmanship
- decoration through craftsmanship (not elaborate ornamentation)
- functionality serving a household purpose
Arts and Crafts is a style of furniture but it is also a design philosophy inspired by the values of the Arts and Crafts movement. You want to furnish your home with simplicity, comfort, functionality, beauty, and craftsman-esque quality. Cheap, ornate, mass production furniture is not going to cut it.
When it comes to furnishing your home with your very own Arts and Crafts style furniture, I suggest being a bit philosophical about it. Find pleasure in the search for it. Take pride in the acquisition of it. If you are daring, craft some of it with your own two hands. If you do these things, you will surely furnish your home with comfort, quality and beauty that will last for years to come.
In the words of William Morris…
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”