Why I Don't Build "Mission"; Showing Support for the Studio Furniture Movement

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 12-31-2007 05:04 PM 6383 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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Mission vs. Arts & Crafts, What’s the Difference?:

Recently, I posted a project here called an “Arts & Crafts Entry Table”.

here is the link to that project:

I am not calling this particular piece a Mission Style, or Craftsman Style, or Stickley Style, simply because it is ornamented. There is a big misconception these days about what to call a piece of furniture from the early 1900’s. I’ve been trying to do it accurately, but there is still a lot of confusion.

I often have to bite my lip when someone walks up to a booth of mine at a show, and says, “Oh, I just love Mission.” The first time that this happenened, I went on and on, giving a history lesson to the poor person, and after they started backing away slowly with that “deer in the headlights” look, I decided from then, on to just smile, and say, “Well, actually, my work leans more toward Early English Arts & Crafts.”

Gustav Stickley the Design Genius: Collectors today just salivate over this old factory made stuff.

Why? The styling is great.

So, why don’t I like to build Mission/Craftsman style work?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Mission/Craftsman Style, I just don’t enjoy building it. I have several pieces of “Mission” in my house that we bought from Basset’s furniture line about 15 years ago when my wife and I both worked for the Corporate “Man” and made more money. I couldn’t afford to buy those pieces today. But, such is the life of a strange little guy like me, trying to swim upstream, up the wrong river.

With some new foam cushions and fabric, and a few hours of clean up in the woodshop, these Basset pieces would still look great. But, life and two kids, and numerous nights of falling asleep on the couch, have done their work to wear our Mission pieces. What I like about them is their styling and ease of care. What I don’t like about them is that they are not made by “A Person.” Keep reading, I think you get what I’m trying to say.

In fact, my business itself would be easier to market, if I just copied the old Mission stuff, there are lots of small shops that are doing it, and to some success. Still, I’m searching for my own ideas, all scrambled in my mind and polluted with M&M’s and diet soda pop (currently the addiction is to Coke Zero).

But, I’m not trying to build a business based on doing woodworking, but rather by building a niche, a collectibility, with a collector base who desires one-of-a-kind pieces. Am I successful at it? Not yet. But I have a dream! Can I see glimmers of hope? Some days.

So, I prefer some ornamentation in my work to keep me moving forward creatively, and to have some flexibility in the design paramenters. This allows me to personalize my furniture, either according to my own thoughts, or what I thought a client’s mind wanted. It is a lot of fun actually. I can suffer through a whole week of “boring” squaring of boards and mortise and tenon joinery, knowing that across the front of the chair, I will get to make a carved “statement”. It keeps me going during the boring and repititious parts of the project.

Also, when I have done Mission, my work was confused for restored antiques. At a show once I heard, “Oh my, you did such a nice job restoring that Stickley.” I never took anything again to a show that could be easily confused with an antique.

I also don’t show my work where other antique restorers are showing theirs, such as flea markets. Just imagine the shock of walking down an aisle of tents looking at $600 Antique Morris Chairs, and coming up to a booth that has the audacity to post a $4500 price tag on their Morris-Inspired Chair. I’ve seen false teeth slip, really. So, to eliminate as much shock as possible, I try to show my work where it won’t seem so out-of-place.

Artisan vs. Factory:
Want to see the difference between Artisan-made and Factory-made? Compare the work of Charles Rolfes with Gustav Stickely’s. Both are considered by the “experts” to be from the “arts & crafts movement”, but they differed in almost every conceivable aspect, other than the type of wood each most often used. Rolfes’ came from a Studio, whereas Stickley’s came from a factory.

But, What is Studio Furniture?
Today’s “Studio Furniture” movement is a step back in time, literally. There still exists in a few locations, the romance of a small, cramped, woodshop filled with scraps and dust, and the aroma of hardwood, where a single artisan makes something unique and original, and beautiful. Functional-Art is the best term I can think of. Is there a calling for expensive Functional-art furniture pieces? Not much of one for sure, but the market is growing, and all the more so as more and more furniture comes in from factories.

Once everyone in the neighborhood has a “Pottery Barn” dark finished set of living room furniture, how is someone to be different and show off their design tastes and descretionary income? If you throw a handful of Artisan made furniture pieces in a room, at a party people will sit on the factory stuff and talk about the Artisan pieces. I’ve seen it happen. Ok, maybe they won’t talk about it all night, but they will talk about it at some point. It is like we “admire” the Artisan pieces, but “use” the Factory pieces. Isn’t that what art is? I thought so, so that is why I call it “functional-art.”

Want a good deal? Invest In an Artist Before They Are Famous:
The survival of the Studio Furniture Artisan is predicated on a handful of discerning collectors who know the difference between truth and hype. Making anything by hand, one, or a few copies, is significantly more expensive per piece, than tooling a factory and building thousands of copies. Still, some special folks are willing to invest in this Movement, and it is growing. The hope for the investor is that they can buy a collectible item, BEFORE they are collectible.

There are some people that feel that Today’s Studio Furniture Movement is producing the iconic pieces that will be considered masterpieces in a few years. In many cases, the investment potential is not so much based on the work itself, but rather on the Artisan’s signature. It’s that way with most art, whether 2-D, 3-D, or Functional-Art. The investment potential is in the Artisan. A silly looking factory made, imported tea pot can be collectible and valuable, if the original designer is famous. We are silly people, huh?

Still, there is a good market for antique “anythings,” regardless of who built it, or the scope of the shop surroundings. But, I purport that the real investment gems have always been the one-of-a-kind iconic pieces by master Artisans. Keep your teapots, I’d rather have a Maloof!

I was showing some of my work in November, 2007 at an art show, and two men walked up excitedly, and pointed to my “Maloof Rocker” and my “Nakashima Table”, calling each one correctly by name. These two guys went onto express that they had been trying to purchase a “Wendell Castle” piece on the internet, and they were shocked at the high prices that this person’s work was fetching today. I assured them that the same was true of any of the works by famous names in the Studio Furniture movement. I went on to add, “if you want a deal, buy the work from someone before they are famous…..” and then I winked. They both looked at me, and smiled, and asked for a brochure, and kept walking.

There are many artisans that should be credited with the creation and survival of the Studio Furniture movement, Maloof, Nakashima, Krenov, Bennett, Castle, & Hack, to name a few, but there are many others. Some seem to have made most of their contribution to the craft based on the help they give to other woodworkers through articles and books, while others just create and help customers achieve their decorating dreams. All of these folks have given their lives to a dream, and for most of the survivors, they seem to have seen their dreams come to fruition.

They are all important and unique for their own reasons, and as different as you could make them. Studying these folks is a lot of fun for me, and I do it a lot more than I have time for. But, as I study them, I learn what makes them tick, and I can draw wisdom from their story, for my own journey.

So for my definition; the term “Studio Furniture” means that a person works in a small shop by themselves, or with a handful of helpers, and makes something unique, original, and well made. Sadly though, even this movement is starting to get hijacked by marketing. I looked through a catalog awhile back of imported furniture, and it was labeled as “Studio Line” and “artisan made.” Ugh. Terms like “Cherry Finish” and “Walnut Finish” are used to decieve the uninformed about what is truly “Cherry” and “Walnut” wood.

Ok, so to sum it up, I like Mission, but I prefer early English Arts & Crafts for it’s lighter proportions, the carving and other ornmentation, but more important, by whom the pieces were made. So, I lean that direction when I am building a piece that I want to build. But, to be honest with you, there really isn’t any particular style that I like more than another. I mainly just like anything that has been designed and built by one person, an Artisan. It is just cooool in my mind. This LJ website is filled with photos from Artisans, and I guess that is a big part of why I like this website so much.

Keep posting folks,

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If you like carved and ornamented Artisan-Built Arts & Crafts Studio Furniture work, here are some other projects I have posted:

1) Sectioned Entertainment Center
2) Orchid Stand/Wine Storage
3) End Tables
4) Coffee Table
5) Table Lamps
6) Prairie Couch
7) Morris Chairs & Ottomans

You can also see these at my website:

Thanks for reading along,
Mark DeCou

(Note: this writing, photos, and project design is protected by copyright by M.A. DeCou 12-31-2007.
Go dream up your own ideas.) -

sorry, I’m getting frustrated, there’s just too many Chinese and North Carolina hits on my website, makes me nervous.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

8 comments so far

View Karson's profile


35032 posts in 3822 days

#1 posted 12-31-2007 05:07 PM

Mark. Thanks for the extra post. Great job.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 3582 days

#2 posted 12-31-2007 06:11 PM

very informative as always

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Joel Tille's profile

Joel Tille

213 posts in 3665 days

#3 posted 12-31-2007 06:33 PM

Mark – Thanks for the history in a small nutshell. I have a Gustav book, but it did not go into this depth as it was more about the style.

-- Joel Tille

View douginaz's profile


220 posts in 3423 days

#4 posted 12-31-2007 07:11 PM

Mark, once again you have delighted and surprised me. You are one of the most prolific and professional “Artist” I have run across in a long time. Do you sub some of your work to Santa’s Elves? Just kidding, Your art, woodcrafting and dedication to your craft are a pleasure to behold. Thanks for working as hard on keeping us up to date as you do at your trade. Happy New Year, Keep um coming !
Doug in AZ.

-- If you need craft books - please visit our small business at

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 3457 days

#5 posted 01-01-2008 04:10 AM

Always an interesting and informative read. I’m not sure whether you inspire me to be better, or to sell my tools and take up something that I have more talent in. Thanks for the info.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4445 posts in 3383 days

#6 posted 01-01-2008 06:39 PM

Lots of good info. thanks, Mark.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 3668 days

#7 posted 01-01-2008 11:14 PM

Beautiful work as usual Mark, beautiful daughter as well. mike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View DocSavage45's profile


7656 posts in 2263 days

#8 posted 09-26-2010 04:10 PM


As you may know, I am on the path, good to find a fellow traveler in studio furniture asthetic. finding our own way is hard. I’ve read the life of Nakashima, the history of Green and Green. Wright was influential as well. looking around the webb there are many “studio furniture” makers. Some trip my trigger more than others. Just by looking at the piece? Re reading “The Impractical Cabinetmaker.” Krenov was my first mentor, and turns out to be someone who’s work ethic I share.

Great to see you “on the path.” Hope you find your way? and people buy your pieces. Turns out there aren’t many who were making a living at what they did, more like surviving. Pitney and Ames sold his work amoungst others. But Wendall Castle, who is design first is also on the path.

Keep educating and enlightening..:)

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

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