Arts and Crafts Furniture

Everything you need to know about Arts and Crafts Furniture


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    This post is all about Arts and Crafts Furniture, So let’s dive into it. The world of the 19th century has changed dramatically. Industrialization and manufacturing meant that people could buy much more, but they were not always of good quality. 

    In the 1850s, in Britain, a design movement developed to challenge the impact of the industrial revolution on manufactured products. The arts and crafts movement included fine arts, architecture, design, and decorative arts like ceramics and furniture.

    It started from the ideas of reformers like British artist and writer William Morris (1834-1896), who wanted to regain the spirit of quality and execution of medieval guilds. Morris and his followers believed that good design mattered to everyone, as did the excellence of craftsmanship. They have developed a style that reflects their beliefs. It had simple and clear lines in contrast to the cluttered taste and styles of the Victorian era.

    In Britain, the Arts and Crafts style peaked between 1880 and 1910. The style also spread in the United States, where it became very popular between about 1910 and 1925.

    Let’s know some more interesting facts about it. 

    What is Arts and Crafts Furniture?

    In general, the furniture made in the Arts and Crafts style is very rectilinear, which means it has many straight lines, often with an emphasis on vertical and elongated shapes. 

    It is typically made of dark wood like stained oak, and any hardware is made of wood or simple forms of metal. If it is padded, like an armchair, the covering is leather or natural fabric of simple color. You won’t find floral prints or oversized seats in Arts and Crafts furniture.

    Overall, the decoration of these furnishings is minimal, allowing natural materials and worked details to shine.

    It made a huge impact on the furniture.  Let’s have a look at the various qualities of art and craft furniture.

    Handcrafted Quality

    The excellence of craftsmanship, ideally achieved by hand, is the hallmark of the arts and crafts movement, which praised sturdy construction.

    Rectilinear Forms

    Though the movement is inspired by nature, the curved shapes are better left to the textile design than the furniture design. Everything is about straight lines in art and craft furniture.

    Stained Wood

    Inspired by nature, the furniture of this era is typically made of sturdy wood such as oak. It is not left natural, but rather stained, enabling a craftsman to perfect the color.

    Arts and Crafts Homes

    Arts and Crafts Paints

    Mortise-and-Tenon Joinery

    Pieces of art and handicrafts are not often kept together with nails or glue. Instead, manufacturers would create mortise and tenon joinery in an impressive display of furniture-making skill and attention to detail.

    Neutral Leather or Natural Cloth Upholstery

    Don’t expect to see themed tapestries in these objects. Preferred materials include leather and natural fabric in neutral or earth tone colors.

    Characteristics of Arts and Crafts

    According to the Victoria and Albert Museum of the United Kingdom. The museum further defines this as “truth in materials” and also notes the influence of the bold Gothic Revival style in color and form.

    When identifying Arts and Crafts pieces, it is worth examining the general style. Art Nouveau, the aesthetic movement, and the mission/artisan-style come into this period of decorative influence, which can be a bit confusing.

    For example, furniture from the Aesthetic Movement is sometimes highlighted with gilt decoration and decorated with bamboo turntables. 

    The Mission Style

    The mission style will be decorated sparingly and very simply with rectangular elements. The curves are light and not frequent in works of art and crafts. And any floral decoration, like carved in the backsplashes of chairs, for instance, is usually very light.

    The ceramic arts, jewelry, and other decorative objects created during this period often have a definite Art Nouveau touch. 

    They tend to incorporate nature-inspired features such as flowers, foliage, animals, and insects. Textiles from this period also tend to include flowing and whirling patterns incorporating patterns and a natural influence.

    How to Identify Arts and Crafts Furniture

    Those styles from the past are easy to identify … not so Arts and Crafts furniture in its numerous shapes. That is also true of today’s revival. Artisans create not only reproductions and adaptations, but also entirely contemporary pieces, reputed Arts & Crafts only because they can be designed, built, and finished by one manufacturer.

    Furniture does not even define itself by making it by hand. The artisan traditions were respected and the guild method revived, but again, Gustav Stickley joined mortise-and-tenons made by the machine in his factory. The exposed carpentry (handmade or machine-made) is a leitmotif in American Arts & Crafts furniture. However, British and Austrian furniture has often been built with hidden joinery, according to the long tradition of fine furniture.

    Art Nouveau

    The use of domestic timber, particularly “humble” species such as oak, is a common thread. Simple furnishings are typical, but Ernest Gimson in England and Stickley’s designer Harvey Ellis used inlaid marquetry. Art Nouveau, a movement of contemporary design born in France and Belgium, is known for its sinuous lines and its decoration. Most of the Arts & Crafts vintage furniture was light-colored, dyed, or smoked to darken it. Again, Mackintosh made use of opaque black and white paints.

    An important influence, held over the aesthetic movement that had so embraced Japonism, is Asian design. You can see Japanese and Chinese influences (in aesthetics and woodwork) in the work of Californian architects Greene & Greene. The Asian influence is especially visible in the work of fusion of renewal.

    Arts & Crafts is truly American in design, manufacturing, and marketing. It does not matter whether his background is medieval, his British and Japanese influences, or whether his biggest supporter was Gustav Stickley, the son of a German mason.

    Today’s buyers can look to comfortably furnish a whole house, or they can be looking for a work of art. The artisanal piece has the characteristics of the manufacturer and is often interpretive, bringing Arts & Crafts into the present.

    For the factory reproduction of American Arts & Crafts furniture, the gold standard is undoubtedly Stickley, who still produces “reissues” of originals by Gustav Stickley, Harvey Ellis, and L. & J.G. Stickley, together with newer lines, was influenced by Greene & Greene and was interpretative.

    Arts and Crafts Furniture Style & Design

    The arts and crafts movement in America is probably best known for its furniture production. Many people claim that the furniture of the time was the only true American product of the movement. 

    Most of the furnishings were built in the Midwest, especially in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The golden years of the reign of Grand Rapids as a “city of furniture” corresponded to the height of arts and crafts influence on the design of furniture. 

    Roycroft and Stickley may have designed the artistic elements of art and craftsmanship furniture, but it was the major Grand Rapids manufacturers who translated their art designs into affordable items and successfully commercialized them. 

    The Arts and Crafts furniture was often referred to as “mission furniture”. Nobody knows how it got its name. Some believe that it is connected to the philosophy of the movement, that is to say, that the furniture was functional and had a “mission” to use. 

    Others believe it was because the furniture was derived from furniture designs found in Franciscan missions in California. Gustav Stickley called him “Handicraft furniture.” Other manufacturers have called it by the name of their specific lines of furniture-“Quaint,” or “LifeTime.” No matter its name, Arts and Crafts furniture was the most enduring manifestation of the movement in America.

    Buy Arts and Crafts Furniture [Guide]

    Anesthetic response to industrialization, the art, and craft furniture movement celebrates authentic American craftsmanship with timeless design, quality materials, and natural solid hardwoods. Well-constructed art and crafts objects, or craft furniture, are made using mortise and tenon joinery.

    When it comes to buying Arts and Crafts furnishings, prices are everywhere. How do you determine what should be purchased? If the goal is to build a heritage collection of Arts and Crafts furniture to share with your kids, seek the best you can afford, old or new. If you just want your children to have a place to sit, eat, sleep and study, affordable reproductions—perhaps even affordable period pieces—make the most sense.

    Antique or Reproduction?

    It’s flooded with oak furniture. One-man shops put up respectable tables and desks at modest prices. Esteemed manufacturers such as Stickley produce quality wood and upholstered parts for every piece of the house.

    Master craftsmen and women craft their interpretations of chairs and buffets in the style of brothers Charles and Henry Greene, sometimes at prices that seem fantastic but that barely cover the cost of their production, considering the materials and labor.

    Much of the attraction of Arts and Crafts furniture comes from its reliance on easily identifiable and naturally strong wood, like American cherry and quarter-sawn white oak. Quarter sawing is a cutting technique that makes boards less likely to crack, check or deform than other cuts. It also reveals the beautiful spots or stripes in the grain so characteristic of Arts and Crafts furniture, In a room such as a Morris chair or a bed frame, for example, the wood should show both a tight grain and the characteristic spots or rays. 

    Less expensive furniture in the style may not be sawn in quarters or may be constructed from red oak rather than white. Keep in mind that wood selection is an art: the best is the artisan, the best is the assortment and selection of wood for the most important faces.

    Mortise-and-Tenon Joinery

    The well-built Arts and Crafts furniture is made using mortise and tenon carpentry, where a protruding lug fits perfectly into a mortise opening — say, where a leg meets a crossbar — with a few nails and sticking as possible. Mortise and tenon joints are commonly pinned with dowels so they won’t shift as the wood shrinks and puff up. They are also sometimes glued, although a properly built joint should not require it.

    The early practitioners of Arts and Crafts transformed many of these age-old techniques of imbrication into “picturesque” decorative elements, such as the through tenon. Common on chair arms, rocker chairs and Morris, frames, mirrors, and stools, a through lug is somewhat self-explanatory: The tenon extends through the mortified piece (say, the chair leg connected by a tenon of a side rail) and projects through slightly on the other side.

    The tenons are often finished with ankle pegs, also a distinctive decorative element. In lower-cost furniture, these details may not be an integral part of the construction, except occasionally in Greene & Greene style furniture, where, in some cases, exposed ebony pegs and splines are in fact purely decorative.

    Not all Mission-style furniture is constructed of solid wood. (Gustav Stickley himself made quadrilinear poles from quarter-sawn oak veneer mites and pasted them around a central pole.) Many very sought-after rooms use veneers, sculptures, and inlays. 

    These accents should almost always be dramatic or decorative rather than as a means of cutting off the work, and add value and cost to an item of furniture.

    Final Words

    Lastly, pay extra attention to the finish. Good parts are hand-sanded and then pigmented many times (with additional sanding between layers) to achieve the desired color. The craftsman then creates highlights and exposes different layers of the finish by laboriously rubbing by hand – the first steps to create a patina that will only get richer with age. 

    As the last step, many furniture manufacturers apply a penetrating wax layer which should help your new treasure to maintain its fine appearance for many years.

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