With a passion for the environment and a love of nature, Gustav Stickley introduced simplicity to the American public in early 1900’s. Drawing inspiration from the beauty of his native state, Wisconsin, Stickley’s philosophy of “organic architecture” was based on four ideas: a house should be constructed in harmony with it’s surroundings, local materials should be used in construction, artificial light should be kept at a minimum and natural light maximized, and an open floor plan should be used to encourage family interaction.
The time was right for a change after years of highly ornate Victorian influence in both architecture and furniture design. By contrast, the architectural designs featured in Stickley’s 1901 periodical, “The Craftsman”, expounded on the practical elegance of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The magazine, featuring designs by Stickley and architect Harvey Ellis, enjoyed a fifteen year run during which it offered 221 different sets of floor plans. It’s popularity led Stickley to establish the “Craftsman Home Builders Club” in 1903 to aid in spreading his concepts.
In 1904 Stickley traveled to California where he fell in love with the beauty of the old Spanish Missions. Upon his return to upstate New York he opened “The Craftsman Workshops”. Bold and angular in design, his utilitarian furniture pieces were made of American Tiger Oak and upholstery was limited to canvas and leather. The furniture featured exposed joinery, wood peg construction, and a fumed ammonia finish. Hardware, used only when required, was either beaten copper or iron in the most basic of designs.
Not all “Stickley” furniture is Gustav’s work. There were five Stickely brothers, each a talented craftsman in his own right. The first to enter the furniture business was Charles Stickley. He married into the Brandt family in 1891 and formed the Stickley-Brandt Furniture Company. His furniture, while among the oldest of the Stickley works, is considered the least desirable by collectors.