What Is Mission Style Furniture & Why Is It Great For Residence Halls?

In Blog, Design Resource by Morgan Dix

What is mission style furniture?

Simple, durable, and functional, mission style furniture emerged in the late 19th century and enjoyed a surge in popularity from about 1900-1915.

It came back into vogue in the 1980’s and remains popular today thanks to its sturdy elegance.

Mission style furniture was pioneered by the architect, publisher, and furniture maker Gustav Stickley. His inspiration came from the furniture he observed in turn of the century California Franciscan missions.

But the name also reflects Stickley’s belief that all furniture should have a clear purpose.

Mission style, which is sometimes referred to as Craftsman style, is well suited to life in residence halls for a number of reasons. And we’ll explore those reasons below.

But first, let’s back up for a brief tour of the history and character of mission style furniture.

A Brief History of Mission Style Furniture

Mission style furniture was a reaction against both the stylistic excesses of the Victorian age and the cheap, mediocre quality of mass produced furniture that was spawned by the industrial revolution.

It also dovetailed stylistically with the arts and crafts movement, which sought to dignify and celebrate the superior work and artifacts of the individual craftsman.

In essence, that arts and crafts movement was a reaction against the inhumanity of the burgeoning industrial complex which turned the craftsman into a mere cog in the wheels of mass production.

The influence of this movement on mission style furniture is summarize well in this comparison between mission and shaker styles:

The rise of the arts and crafts movement impacted mission style furniture. It meant that workers didn’t feel bogged down in a factory. They could take some pride in a handmade product. Since this concept of a craftsman rose during the time that mission furniture became popular, these pieces while still plain and functional were exceptionally well-made.

That’s why Gustav Stickley sometimes referred to mission style furniture as craftsman style. And in fact, he published a magazine called The Craftsman where he marketed his furniture and promoted mission style.

According to history writer Troy Segal reporting from The Spruce:

In the debut issue of The Craftsman, Stickley wrote: “The aim of good design (and, in fact, of the entire Arts and Crafts movement) was “to substitute the luxury of taste for the luxury of costliness; to teach that beauty does not imply elaboration or ornament; to employ only those forms and materials which make for simplicity, individually and dignity of effect.”

What Are The Traits of Mission Style Furniture?

DCI Mission Style Furniture SofaSo what does mission style furniture look like and what are some key traits of this popular style?

1. Horizontal & Vertical Lines

Straight horizontal and vertical lines are defining elements as well as flat planes and panels that highlight the natural grain of the wood.

2. Simplicity

As you may have already deduced, there is very little ornamentation. The beauty is reflected in the elegant and spare simplicity of style.

3. Vertical and Parallel Slats

Vertical and parallel slats, called stiles, were a common feature of mission furniture which lent the furniture the appearance of strength. At the same time, this styling creates the subtle illusion of lightness, which balanced its masculine and heavy appearance.

4. Exposed Joints

Another important highlight of mission style furniture is the exposed mortise-and-tenon joints, which add tremendous strength and durability to any piece of furniture. It’s also just a beautiful feature of the furniture.

Segal speaks to this and to Stickley’s original approach to manufacturing mission furniture.

Although Stickley’s furniture was machine-made, it had a handcrafted air – an effect it accomplished by emphasizing the details of its construction: visible tenons (ends of pieces of wood), exposed joints and the use of pins and pegs – never nails or glue – as fasteners. These techniques, many of which dated back to medieval times, gave the furniture an artisanal, pre-Industrial Revolution look. But its factory manufacture made it more affordable than any actual handmade work could be.

Why Mission Style Furniture Is Great For Residence Halls

examples of DCIs mission style furniture side table and lounge chairSo why is mission furniture such a good fit for residence halls? I’m guessing it’s probably obvious to you already.

1. Sturdy

To put it simply, this furniture is built to last a lifetime (or two!). It’s incredibly sturdy.

Consequently, it easily weathers the heavy wear of life in a college residence hall. As with any institutional setting, the furniture can take a beating. And students aren’t always the most gentle lot.

That’s why the strength and simplicity of this furniture is such a good fit for residence halls.

2. Authentic

But there’s more. The furniture also brings an authentic feel with it. As Stickley intended, it dignifies its surrounding and lends a subtle sense of style to any environment.

3. Sustainable

And finally, in line with Stickley’s missionary zeal, locally sourced and manufactured solid hardwood furniture is sustainable to the core. Students love this!

Wood is a renewable resource and it’s the most climate friendly carbon neutral furniture material you can buy. In fact, long-lasting hardwood furniture serves as a carbon sink.

And the miracle of wood is that it’s like a cat and can live many lives. It’s easy to give solid wood furniture fresh life through refinishing, recycling, reusing, or upcycling the original piece.

DCI’s Mission Style Lounge Set

One of our more popular collections at DCI is our mission style lounge set. It’s made from sustainable FSC-Certified solid oak and features a beautiful medium stain to highlight the rich wood grain.

This elegant set includes a sofa, end table, coffee table, and chair all stylistically tied together with strong vertical slats.

Despite the strong stable legs and square angles, this open slat style also transmits a visual impression of lightness.

If you’re interested in a line of sustainable, sturdy, and elegant furniture for your residence hall lounge, look no furniture.


To set up an order today or to talk with one of our representatives, you can write to us here or call: (800) 552-8286.

You can also learn more about our industry-leading FSC CoC certification, our MAS certification, and our green materials sourcing, sustainable manufacturing, and our unique zero waste Vertical Integration Process (VIP).

Download the DCI Sustainability overview here.