Interior Decorating Information

The Arts & Crafts Movement for Beginners

If you like clean, simple, oak furnishings, you're likely an Arts & Crafts aficionado. In this month's column, we'll talk about the history, the early champions and the variety of disciplines within the Arts & Crafts movement.

Sometimes, you'll hear the terms Arts & Crafts and Mission used interchangeably. The English call the movement Arts & Crafts and the American's call it Mission. They're both talking about the same thing.


The Arts & Crafts period (circa 1850 -1930s) developed in reaction to the Victorian era that preceded it. The late 19th century saw the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The mass produced merchandise resulting from assembly line production was distressing to artisans who continued to value individually, hand crafted, quality items. These artisans advocated a return to simple, well made items. The movement encompassed not just furniture but also architecture, ceramics, metal work, wallpaper and stain glass. Brown, green, black, yellow tones were prevalent across all fields; as was an emphasis on quality workmanship. There were many Arts & Crafts artisans. William Morris, Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright are the most known. Today reproductions continue to be sold by a variety of retailers.

William Morris

Britain's William Morris (1834 - 1896) is one the earliest champions of the movement. Morris and a group of likeminded artisans started Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. Later the company was renamed Morris & Co. The company produced work in a number of areas including architecture, stain glass, fabric, ceramics and wallpaper. Morris' marital home Red House, designed by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., is one of earliest examples of Arts & Crafts architecture.

Because Morris is one of the forefathers of the movement, it's not surprising that anything made by him is highly collectible and valuable. His finest work is now found only in museums. Anything made by Morris is usually stamped "Morris & Co."

Gustav Stickley

In the United States, the movement developed around the 1870s with furniture maker Gustav Stickley (1857 -1942) and his family leading the way. In 1900, this New York state based architect and designer introduced his Craftsman line of furniture. The company continues to produce furniture today. In 1997, Barbra Streisand, a pre-eminent collector of Arts & Crafts furniture sold a Gustav Stickley sideboard for $596,500 (USD) in a Christie's auction.

Frank Lloyd Wright

American Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was instrumental to the Arts & Crafts movement. He is most well known for his work as an architect and was generally commissioned to design a home and all of its furniture. His work rarely comes up for sale and commands a very high price when it does appear. The residential home, Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum in New York are two of his most famous architectural works.


The furniture of this period is solidly constructed simple furniture that frequently was made of quarter sawn oak and ash wood. Rush seating is prevalent. Spindle-back and sides, horizontal and vertical slat-back and sides are customary design elements. Upholstery is often done in green, brown or black leather. Because this furniture is so well constructed, you'll see antique pieces receiving regular use today.


Potters also reacted against the mass produced wares of Victoria era. Craftsmen began to create ceramics influenced by the graceful Japanese style of the Aesthetic movement. New types of glazes and more creative forms opened up new avenues to potters. In North America, the Arts & Crafts movement led to a fundamental change in the perception of ceramics. Up until this period, ceramics were perceived as utilitarian, not decorative. The new wealthy class could afford to splurge on superfluous decorative objects. Design subjects often included flowers, dragons, flora and fauna and were commonly applied in brown, yellow, green glazes.


The move to hand crafted workmanship affected artisans who worked with silver, brass, pewter and copper. Companies such as Liberty & Co. and Tiffany & Co. produced pieces using hand and machine production methods. Characteristics include hammered surfaces and green or brown enamels.

Martin Swinton owns Take-A-Boo Emporium located in Toronto, Canada. He has appeared on a variety of television programs; does furniture restoration; caning and rushing repairs; appraisals and has taught courses on antiques at the Learning Annex. Martin can be reached at

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