Mission styling continues to confuse, cause debate and generally become even less defined with discussion. In its truest form, it may technically be more accurate to call it Spanish Colonial Revival as a late 1800s tribute to earlier influences found in California’s missions. Gustav Stickley, who was responsible for the Craftsman style, receives some mislabeled credit for Mission styling. In truth, Stickley’s furniture and architectural form followed, just barely, on the heels of Mission’s rise. With some overlapping, both these historical favorites received inspiration from Europe’s Arts and Crafts movement.
Spanish and Colonial Influences in Mission Styling
Mission style furniture dates back to the mid-1890s, with attribution going to A.J. Forbes for his California church furniture. Four years later, across the country in New York, Joseph McHugh made the term popular with his interpretation of Forbes’ designs. Of course, it was around 1890 that the Arts and Crafts movement headed to America’s shores, which might have had some influence on both coasts. However, it is Craftsman that is most closely associated with Arts & Crafts, rather than Mission.
Spanish mission furniture is a wonderful complement to architectural detailing that includes bold connecting columns with arches and red clay roof tiles. Exterior and interior stuccoed walls are also distinctive features that are still mainstays in southwestern and hacienda environments. Patios are typically surrounded by high walls with wooden gates or doorways inspired by the cloistered gardens of Mexican and Californian monasteries.
Mission styling also showcases a diverse heritage that goes back centuries. Spanish influences, naturally, are strong, but they meld with cultural inspiration from North Africa and the added touches of Pueblo Indian builders who were employed by Franciscan friars to bring their visions to life. Over time, as California left Spanish rule behind, Americanized tastes also slipped in.
Rooms remain somewhat austere in deference to the monastic way of life. Neutral colors play a large role, but are often tempered by bold color bursts. Today’s Mission furniture is not as crude as its predecessors, but it definitely retains a rustic air. Most early pieces were wood, featuring straight lines and minimal decoration, but wicker, marching toward its highest demand during this period, was making a showing.
Wicker’s Place in Spanish Mission Decor
Mixed in with wood furniture, wicker seating and accessories can brighten or continue the monochromatic scaling of natural finishes. As the demand for this style moved further east into Arizona and Texas, colors became bolder, mimicking desert sunrises or sunsets interspersed with brown, beige and blue. Dining areas can be a little crowded with a rectangular table and as many high-backed chairs as will fit. Wicker seating choices might be reminiscent of Parson styles dining side chairs with squared seats and angular armrests at the foot and head.
In bedrooms, woven rattan panels can decorate drawer fronts on wooden chests or dressers. Wicker benches with or without storage are decorative accompaniments. In living areas or home offices, square or rectangular wicker baskets make excellent organizers on open bookshelves.
In traditional Spanish Colonial settings, interior living spaces tend to flow almost seamlessly to the outdoors. With a selection of resin wickers, patio and porch settings are just as inviting as interiors during warmer weather. Outdoor lighting with weatherproof floor or table lamps featuring wicker bases are essential. Look for simpler styles and select muted colors in cushioning to better coordinate with natural surroundings.
While the debate may continue over references to Spanish Colonial or Mission style, this only provides more opportunities for personal interpretation based on a distinctive time in America’s design history.