Charles Limbert: A Different Style of Mission Furniture

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When we bring up Mission style furniture, it’s natural to think of the leading artisan of the day, Gustav Stickley. We’ve blogged about his designs and influence on a few occasions. However, he and his company weren’t the only furniture makers and designers working with Craftsman and Mission style sensibilities.

Charles Limbert (1854-1944) made some valuable contributions to design with his own company, Charles P. Limbert Furniture Co., that were a marked departure from Stickley’s vision.

Stickley’s Vision
Gustav Stickley’s furniture was about straight lines, crisp geometry, and outstanding materials. Aside from a few natural curves one might find in nature, the pieces that came out of his workshop and factory were free from embellishment and adornment. His early furniture, produced between 1901 and 1904 is considered rare and very collectible. Barbra Streisand paid $363,000 for a Stickley sideboard from the Gustav Stickley House in Syracuse in an auction in 1988!

Limbert’s Vision
From his factories in Grand Rapids and later in Holland, Michigan, Limbert began producing furniture in what he called a “Dutch Arts and Crafts” style, so called because it was influenced by Dutch peasant furniture that Limbert had seen in his European travels.

These early designs came in oak and ash, with “ammonia fumed” finishes and leather or woven hickory-bark upholstery. Ammonia fuming is a wood finishing process that darkens wood and brings out the grain pattern. 

Limbert was a sales agent for the Old Hickory Chair Co., and many of the outdoor and porch furniture designs in his Dutch Arts and Crafts Summer Line have that same feel.

The Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone still has examples of his designs, notably, several wash stands in the Old House section of the Inn, alongside pieces of Old Hickory furniture. Though lines were simple, some earlier pieces included Art Nouveau-style leaded and colored art glass, inlay, burn marks, or cut-out decorations. Stickley briefly embraced cutouts for the year of 1903, then quickly dropped them from his catalogue.

Then between 1904 and 1910, perhaps inspired by the Prairie School of design, Limberts’ plans took on an art-like quality, ironically, when Stickley’s designs were going in the other direction. Pieces were devoid of decoration, except for geometric cutouts set against strong angles. Furniture took on a more dramatic and architectural form, almost sculptural. Stickley kept his course, making his furniture just a bit lighter but still geometrical, though he offered more shapely designs in willow furniture as a contrast.

Although it’s tempting to stick to reading about the leading lights of the Arts and Crafts or Craftsman movements, it’s always worth digging further to discover new designs from other designers from the same period—and adding them to your home collection if you can!