Is Mahogany Okay in a "Mission Style" Furniture Piece?

The customer is always right, of course. But technically, what types of wood are legit in a "Mission," "Stickley," or "Arts and Crafts" piece of furniture?February 17, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I am being asked to build a mission style side board/server and after showing my wood samples the customer has picked ribbon stripe mahogany instead of quarter sawn oak (I was pushing the oak). My concern is itís just not true to the piece. Itís going in a place to be seen by a large number of members.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor K:
Don't worry about it. Build what the customer wants and just take the mission label off the piece. You will be building a ribbon mahogany sideboard in the mission style. No one but you will think twice about it.

From contributor D:
Remember the person that signs the front of the check is in charge. Our job is to make what they want the color they want, but the construction and technical aspects are our job - that's why they came to you as a professional. I am currently doing a job out of rustic hickory. Itís very different than normal but it will pay the bills.

From Contributor U:
I would follow the others advice and go ahead with the project. I mess around with different styles of furniture and mix woods that would not normally be considered correct. It use to get my dander up when ask to step outside of what I considered proper, but over time I relaxed my attitude quite a bit and now I find these types of projects to be much more enjoyable. I am writing this from my personal desk that follows the shaker design, but has legs and rails made from mahogany and a top that is a salvaged black walnut bar top. While a pine, oak or different wood would have probably been more appropriate in my area, this desk is one of my favorite pieces. You may want to also consider what the new piece will do for your portfolio when you can show pictures of a furniture piece in different woods to future customers.

From contributor C:
Customers want what they want. Serve them and hope the check clears. I turned a bowl out of elm and it was gorgeous - heartwood, sapwood, beautiful grain and figure. The guy bought it and came back a week later wanting to know if I could stain it. I was diplomatic and urged him to really look at what it was (as in, you bought it, idiot, now ignore what your wife is telling you) and appreciate it for what it shows of the tree's life. What are you going to do - make stuff, earn some money and move along.

From Contributor O:
It's the old "Sell what you make vs. make what you sell" discussion. If you want to focus on authentic mission design, then do not show other woods or offer to step away from the core activity. You didn't see George Nakashima doing federalist tables. If you want to be pure custom and do whatever, be ready to paint burl veneers, dye maple blue and worse.

From Contributor J:
Arts and Crafts are all I do. Mahogany is an authentic wood for this style of furniture. Many mission pieces were built from mahogany and were stunning, and not just Greene and Greene. Morris chairs and many other pieces look wonderful in mahogany.

From the original questioner:
Iím still waiting for the ok. Turns out they all loved the mahogany but liked the price of the oak. We will see.

From contributor K:
To contributor J: The mission style of furniture, I think, is attributed more to Gustav Stickley who, according to a biography I read, used fumed, quartersawn white oak for 95% of his work with mahogany, chestnut and maple making up the other 5%. I guess mahogany could be acceptable for this style but it wouldn't really be representative. The Arts and Crafts styling Greene and Greene used in the Gamble house utilizing teak and mahogany, in my opinion, is a whole different animal to what I would call mission furniture.

From Contributor J:
I have a stack of books, catalogs, etc. on arts and crafts that reaches halfway to my ceiling. Iíve been doing it 20 plus years and I study my craft. While Stickley has become synonymous with Arts and Crafts (through marketing), in the heyday and early part of the 20th century many fine manufacturers competed and got a large slice of the Arts and Crafts pie.

The use of quartered white oak was used more for practicality than any rigid adherence to dogma. It was low cost, available and beautiful. If anything, Gus was practical. Many woods can be used to produce very nice Arts and Crafts furniture. Sycamore is stunning. If you have any of the old catalogs like the Come-Packt furniture company which sold knock down, customer assembled arts and crafts furniture you'll see that these pieces were available in a variety of woods and finishes.