Arts and Crafts Furniture: Exploring a Timeless Style

Published February 18, 2021
Woodworking Craftsman

Easily identifiable because of its elongated lines and traditional techniques, arts and crafts furniture fits perfectly within the homes of people who prefer the simplicity of natural materials and the understated beauty of the outside world. First developed in the mid-19th century in England and soon transferring across the ocean to the United States, examples of antiques from this period in design are highly sought after by collectors and come with steep values. Yet, with their quality construction and lasting appeal, pieces of arts and crafts furniture are assuredly worth the investment.

The Arts and Crafts Movement

Interior design during the mid-19th century was characterized by cheaply made assembly-line furniture, and this fabricated furniture was finished with the ostentatious, brightly-colored details of Victorian style. In response to this popularity, English artist William Morris helped launch a newfound design ideology that was bereft of these Victorian accents and focused heavily on the craftsmanship of every piece. Quickly this 'Arts and Crafts' movement travelled to the United States where designers like Gustav Stickley and Charles and Henry Greene worked to establish thriving manufacturing studios. 'Arts and Crafts' was soon shortened to just 'Craftsman' and exemplified this focus on superior attention to creating lasting furniture. Despite its historic origins, you can still find craftsman style furniture in nearly every furniture store, and if you're an 'arts and crafts' purist, you can even buy pieces from legendary manufacturers like Stickley Furniture & Mattress.

Red House home of William Morris

Characteristics of Craftsman Furniture

Arts and crafts furniture has an incredibly distinctive appearance, which can be attributed to some of the style's fundamental characteristics. Here are just a few of these foundational themes which make an appearance in most craftsman pieces.

  • Domestic Woods - Carpenters utilized different species of native wood for their work, with oak being an incredibly popular choice.
  • Clear-Finishes and Stains - In order to highlight their work's organic beauty, these designers didn't use thick stains, but rather they applied clear-finishes and light stains.
  • Rectilinear - Visually, arts and crafts pieces are incredibly straight as their designers worked to highlight these elongated forms and lines.
  • Mortise-and-Tenon Joinery - Perhaps the most iconic element of the arts and crafts style is mortise and tenon joinery which is a style of joining a tenon into a mortise opening with as little glue or nailing as possible, often completed through pinning them together with dowels.
Gustav stickley per united crafts

Popular Arts and Crafts Manufacturers

Individual craftsman and manufacturers who contributed to the arts and crafts style are renowned for their woodworking expertise. A few of these elite creators include:

  • William Morris
  • Gustav Stickley
  • Harvey Ellis
  • Charles Rohlfs
  • Charles and Henry Greene

Evaluate Arts and Crafts Furniture

Estimating value for arts and crafts furniture can be a bit more difficult than it can be for other furniture designs. Firstly, arts and crafts furniture wasn't wholly made by-hand; some manufacturers did use industrial techniques and tools to work on their pieces. So, hand-crafted pieces and industrial ones can have similar values. However, one through-line of pricing arts and crafts furniture is that the maker/manufacturer can make a substantial difference on their values. For example, works from the elite craftsman of the time, like William Morris and Gustav Stickley, will go for thousands, if not tens-of-thousands of dollars. This pair of Stickley cherrywood bookcases is listed for nearly $6,000 in one auction, and a Morris & Co. oak treble linen press is listed for a little over $19,500 in another. Yet, even remolded pieces, like these two reupholstered craftsman rocking chairs, can bring in between $200-$500. So, if you're in the business of buying arts and crafts pieces, you're definitely going to pay for the quality of the pieces you're interested in.

Gustav stickley per craftsman workshop

Explore Arts and Crafts Furniture

Thankfully, there are other ways you can enjoy this seminal design movement if vintage or antique arts and crafts furniture is out of your price range. If you're interested in researching more about the theology and conversations being had about the arts and crafts movement during the early-20th century, then you can visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison's digital collections for online versions of Gustav Stickley's magazine, Craftsman. The magazine ran from 1901-1916 and browsing through the volumes can give you incredible insight into the movement and the period. Additionally, you can visit the Stickley Museum in Fayetteville, New York, to see exhibits on some of the Stickley Company's most innovative pieces.

Bring Natural Beauty Into Your Home

Since there are contemporary arts and crafts inspired pieces you can purchase today, alongside authentic antique and vintage examples, there is an incredible opportunity to outfit your modern home with the warm woods and natural pigments of the outdoors. Next time you browse through your nearest vintage outlet, be sure to check the lines and joints of the wooden furniture you see because you may just be able to find an original Morris or Greene and Greene for a fraction of its value.

Arts and Crafts Furniture: Exploring a Timeless Style