The Styles

"The only really good place to buy lumber is at a store where the lumber has already
been cut and attached together in the form of furniture, finished, and put inside boxes."

Dave Berry

There are so many furniture stores with a large variety of contemporary or traditional furniture that it can be very confusing on what to buy. Most furniture stores represent a variety of manufacturers both foreign and domestic that you just don't know what you are buying and thus rely on manufacture reputation instead of the quality and style of the furniture. Most manufacturers make several lines of furniture with varying degrees of workmanship and quality of components.

Custom woodworkers don't have the luxury of being able to make various lines of furniture and thus mostly tend to stay with one or two styles of furniture. The Mountain Woodworker specializes in the Shaker and Mission styles that evolved from the Arts and Crafts era toward the end of the 1800s. Based on the principles of simplicity and craftsmanship, these two styles transcend time. Shaker and Mission style furniture can be found in homes across the nation and in business, government, and industry. You can even find this style of furniture in our schools.

The Shaker Style
Although the Shakers immigrated to America in 1774, it wasn't until the mid-1800s that their furniture became popular as people began wanting something other than the glitz of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Behind their furniture was a lifetime belief in plain living, utility of objects, a hard work ethic, and dedication to God. Out of their belief that idle hands were the work of the devil, the Shakers looked at whatever they built was a way of serving their Lord.

This belief is reflected in the furniture and other things they built and made. Each item made had a dedicated use, clean lines, and no decorative embellishments. Based on the neoclassical lines of the Federalist style, Shaker craftsmen simplified these lines to an extreme and also foregone the intricate inlay, elaborate carving or thick veneers, for a "plain and simple" look, quality workmanship and materials, and a smooth finish. While utility and simplicity are the hallmarks of Shaker furniture, other elements of the Shaker style make it a desirable style for home and office. Although plain and simple, Shaker furniture is highly decorative but without the embellishments of other styles. The following elements make up the Shaker style:

  • simple, elegant design
  • chairs may include ball-and-socket feet
  • mortise-and-tenon joints
  • dovetailed drawers
  • frame-and-panel
  • may include hand-forged nails and double-pins
  • if painted - dark red or green, colors that didn't show dirt; yellow and orange also used
  • legs are delicate and straight:
    • may be square or round
    • often tapered or with a gentle swelling in the middle
    • may have feet
    • may have very simple bracket feet for case pieces
    • may have cylindrical, arrow or pear feet for chairs and tables
  • regional woods were used
    • inexpensive local timber readily available
    • maple
    • pine,
    • cherry
    • walnut
    • hickory (especially for items that required bent pieces)
    • poplar (especially for interior parts)
  • decorative elements
    • actually part of the structure
    • long 'finger joints'
    • large, plain, button-like or 'mushroom' knobs
    • wide slats across chair backs
  • Shaker Chairs
    • tape seat
    • ladder-back chairs
    • tilt-back chairs
    • ball and socket foot
  • Shaker Tables
    • lightweight and simple
    • took the trestle design and changed its ornate and heavy style
    • reflect a farmhouse style, with simple legs
    • often designated for communal living (large)

    The years between 1820 and 1865 are considered the classical era for the Shaker style. Since 1865, while the traditional elements of the style have been maintained, the style has changed some. Today there is a trend to use:

    • commercially made porcelain knobs instead of the more traditional wooden knobs
    • contrasting light and dark woods
    • cloth tapes made of colorful fabrics for chair seats
    • varnish to accentuate wood grains instead of covering the grain with paint.

Regardless of these changes, the Shaker style furniture remains to be characterized by its plainness, practicality, and craftsmanship. It is a truly American style of furniture that is an artistic, distinctive, and beautiful form of craftsmanship.

The Mission Style
There are two truly American styles of furniture that are well sought after. The Shaker style we discussed above. The second style is the Mission style which arose out of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Mission style furniture, which dates back to the late 1800s, is also called the Arts and Crafts style of furniture . Calling this style of furniture Arts and Crafts can be confusing because this term refers to the American Arts and Crafts movement and not the European movement which took place at the same time. Both movements were a rebellion against both the elaborateness of the Victorian era and the industrial revolution. The simple, rustic style of the Mission style of furniture symbolized the movement.

The term, "mission furniture," was coined by New York furniture manufacturer Joseph McHugh to describe his straight line rustic style furniture. The design for his furniture was based on furniture found in the old Spanish missions throughout the Southwest and Mexico. This furniture was simple and solid. At about the same time Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley were developing their own designs also based on the familiar mission style.

The irony of the mission style is that its originally, uniqueness and authenticity fell prey to the very thing it was revolting against. The desire for Mission furniture caused it to become mass produced. Regardless, hand craftsmanship and time won out. If it were not for technology and new, more environmentally friendly material, mass production of Mission furniture would probably decline. Still the rustic and beautiful lines of hand craftsmanship is still highly desired and sought after in Mission style furniture.

Mission style furniture is easily recognized by its simple, rustic style. Other features include:

  • design elements integral to the structure
  • a hand-hewn quality
  • square supports
  • a heavy appearance
  • natural materials are common
    • leather and wool for seat cushions
    • brass hinges in very simple designs
    • decorative motifs, if any, are taken from nature--flowers, vegetables, fruits, animals and bugs common
  • exposed joinery
  • quarter-sawn Oak and birch are the most popular woods
  • Very little staining or natural oil finishes that allow the wood to naturally darken over time
  • copper hardware
  • Simple, stark geometry
  • Strong vertical lines and flat horizontals

Over the years, the simple elegance and emphasis on craftsmanship have made Shaker and Mission style furniture the most enduring and widely accepted furniture design styles in America. These two styles have transcended time while other styles have come and gone. The Mountain Woodworker is proud to carry on the traditions of the Shaker and Mission artisans. We strive to provide the same quality of design and craftsmanship as the woodworkers we follow.